3 T1S3 Da7S7STfi
A Record of Pioneer Days
in the Middle West
By SIGEL ROUSH
Shenandoah Publishing House, Inc.
By Sigel Roush
These sketches are founded on fact
and fiction. Mostly fact. All are
potentially true. The characters are
all real, though they are presented
under assumed or altered names.
The Rudolph family lived, moved
and had its being in the Swamps.
Sheridan Rudolph relates the earlier
adventures herein recorded substan-
tially as they were told to him. His
later personal experiences and reactions
to life are meant to be frank and
The author makes no claim to liter-
ary proficiency; this book is purely a
work of love.
Averill Park, X. Y.
I Location and Physical Features 7
II Jack Kling Finds My Father Dying 15
III Jack Kling and Moccasin Mike 25
IV Dink Cherry and My Father's Wild Ride 35
V Catamounts 47
VI Joel Smart, The Swamp's First Trapper 55
VII A Cabin Close-Up and a Bear 69
VIII Willis and The Wolf 83
IX The First Crop and the Last Wolf 97
X, Clarkson's Operation and Biddie's Eggs 111
XI The Big Ditch 123
XII McKim, The Bandit 135
XIII The Hunts and the Crowmans 155
XIV A Sunday's Program 169
XV Pastimes in the Swamps 183
XVI My First Fight 197
XVII Coon Hunting 209
XVIII "Give Me Liberty" 225
XIX Getting Religion 239
XX Willis Comes Home 253
XXI Tireless Time and Tide 273
XXII High School and Home 287
XXIII The Fever 303
Location and Physical Features
These incidents and adventures occurred in a section
of the Middle West locally known as THE SWAMPS.
At the time of which I write the Swamps was
an oasis of backwardness that remained primitive and
unreclaimed long after the country round about had
taken on the semblance of civilization. The reason for
this was not far to seek, for the nature of the Swamps
— in area about a hundred square miles — was extremely
wet and miry and in consequence held out but little
inducement to the settler; for not only was the ground
utterly unfitted, in its swampy condition, for growing
crops, but in addition it was covered with a dense
growth of timber that had to be cleared away before
the land could even be properly drained. It was level
throughout and contained no streams, and at the
beginning of the last century it was a primeval forest —
dense, dismal and comparatively unknown.
The Swamps abounded in game and certain fur-
bearing animals, and the gain from pelts had early
attracted a few hardy trappers who lived, for the
greater part of the year, within these gloomy precincts.
As an adjunct to the wild meat upon which they mainly
subsisted, these trappers, who soon became expert
woodsmen, were in the habit of clearing away a small
plot of ground about their rude cabins upon which they
grew a meagre amount of vegetables and Indian corn.
8 The Swamps
These trappers lived a lonely life, seldom met their
fellows and rarely came in contact with the outside
world. They held no legal title to the land, nor did
they concern themselves about it, for there was no one
to dispute their claim. Yet there was an unwritten law
among them that prevented one from encroaching upon
the territory of another, and if there ever occurred any
disputes or differences between them, it was settled by
the law of the jungle and the outside world knew
nothing about it.
On every side of the Swamps the country was hilly,
thus converting this tract of marshy forest into a
natural amphitheatre. In these surrounding hills the
pioneers from the East settled and cleared away their
farms. Here they reared their families and wrested
from the soil their slender subsistence. In the hills to
the South of the Swamps my forebears, after trekking
over the Alleghany Mountains, finally found a home.
Here my father and mother were born and lived until
they married, which, following the custom of those
pioneer days, was at an absurdly early age.
A fortnight after the simple nuptials my father
chanced to meet one of the trappers from the Swamps
who was returning from marketing his furs, and the
two engaged in conversation. The trapper was old and
weary of his life, and offered to sell his claim of about
fifty acres to my father. The consideration was only
a few dollars and my father bought it "sight unseen."
The next day the trapper led my father to a one-
room cabin about five miles into the Swamps. There
Location and Physical Features 9
was a small clearing around the cabin, a shallow well
and a few hand implements of the soil. That was all.
The next month my father and mother mounted on
a single horse, took up their journey to their new
home. Here my mother remained while my father
returned to his ancestral rooftree in the hills from
which place he brought away, on his second horseback
trip, all his earthly belongings.
In these unpromising surroundings they began
housekeeping. Being the youngest but one of a family
of six I have no personal knowledge of these strenuous
years but many a night I have listened, while the logs
blazed and crackled in the wide-mouthed fireplace of
our then larger log home, to the thrilling tales told by
my father and older brothers of these primitive times.
Some of these tales I have heard many times, but I
never grew tired of them. At the dramatic periods
my heart would beat wildly and in imagination I fought
with them, I wrestled with the wild beasts in close
quarters, I could even feel the trickle of blood from
wounds made by the wolfs cruel teeth as it oozed my
strength away. And I had pointed out to me time
without number the places where these thrilling
adventures happened, and where my mind's eye would
complete the scene, when with the actors all restored,
the pioneer drama would be re-enacted in my excited
brain with the verity of living reality. Other evidences
of the truth of these tales I have had a-])lenty, not the
least convincing of which were certain bodily scars that
my father and older brothers received in these conflicts,
10 The Swamps
and which they carried with them to their graves ; scars
not only inflicted by ferocious beasts, but scars left by
ferocious men as well; honorable scars, the badges of
heroism bestowed upon them in the fierce struggle they
waged to gain and maintain the mastery over the savage
conditions of these lawless days.
In this miry, inhospitable jungle my parents
started life together, a life that held nothing in prospect
besides a bare living yielded but grudgingly from the
sources at hand, and then only under tremendous
pressure. I have tried to picture these early days in
the Swamps — days when my father worked with axe
and maul, and grubbing hoe and spade to keep the
allegorical wolf from the door, while the real marauder
was sometimes dispatched in a hand-to-hand encounter,
or his depredations ended by a well-aimed bullet from
"Long Tom," the ancient family rifle. This old fowling
piece I remember very well. To lift it was no easy
task for me even when I was quite "a chunk of a boy."
But Long Tom was as important an implement of those
days as the articles of husbandry, for though the few
stray Indians who still roamed the Swamps after the
cowing given to them by "Mad" Anthony Wayne, were
more of a nuisance than a menace, still there was meat
to be provided for the larder, and Long Tom was
generally able to supply this need.
This ancient weapon was taller than a man, and
weighed as much as the elephant gun of modern times.
It was, of course, muzzle-loading and took a homemade
bullet about as large as a good-sized pea. This bullet
Location and Physical Features 11
was wrapped in greased "patching," a piece of muslin
that had been dipped in melted tallow, after which it
was inserted into the muzzle of the gun. Then wdth a
long, slender, hickory ramrod it w^as rammed down
upon the charge of pow^der that had been previously
emptied from the powder horn into the muzzle of the
gun. These ramrods, because of their small size and
great length, would frequently break in ramming home
the bullet. This was sometimes tragic, especially in
face of danger, for it became necessary then to make a
new one before the gun could again be loaded. And it
was no small task to fashion and finish these ramrods,
for they had to be made of a straight-grained piece of
tough hickory clear of knots and capable of being
rounded and scraped to exactly the size of the bore of
the gun. Otherwise they would the more easily break.
My father, like other pioneers of his time, was a
good shot. Indeed, considering the primitive weapon
he used, it seems to me in looking back across the
years, some of his shots were little less than marvelous.
This same primitive gun is still in the possession of the
family, and only a few years ago I handled it, and
the wonder of those shots grew greater as I compared
it with the present day arms. And yet even in my time
I remember my father, then past middle life, holding
this heavy rifle without a rest and firing the bullet
squarely into the middle of a beef's brain on butchering
He was always ready to test his skill at shooting
with us boys, all of whom became, from the very nature
12 The Swamps
of things, good shots. And up to the time his eyesight
began to fail him in his seventies, he was usually
victorious in these shooting matches. I remember with
poignant emotions when he first failed to prove the
victor. I had been away from home for awhile, and
my return was celebrated one afternoon by a marks-
manship test. My father proposed it, and though I
owned a more modern rifle, he suggested we use Long
Tom. I set up the target at fifty paces against the old
elm tree in the barnyard; and Long Tom was taken
down from the deer antler support above the door and
cleaned. From the powder horn my father carefully
poured a charge of powder down the long barrel. He
next wrapped the ball in the patching and rammed it
home. Then he primed the gun and drew back the
hammer. I saw to my sorrow the old Pioneer was a
bit unsteady, and I determined to shoot wild when my
time came. He must have suspected my intentions, for
when his shot failed to hit the bulFs eye he warned me
about any fudging on my part. I was in a quandary
as to what to do, for I knew I could beat his shot if I
did my best. I looked at him for a moment and I
realized if he suspected that I was letting him down
easy he would feel hurt, for all his life he had played
the game with wild nature and wilder men where no
quarter was ever asked or given. I determined to do
When the score was closed I had beaten him over-
whelmingly. I shall never forget the look of sadness
and sorrow that filled his now dimming eyes as he
LocATiox AXD Physical Features 13
realized, perhaps, for the first time in all his life, that
he was nearing the end of the book, that his days of
triumph were numbered.
In those early times we were never much given to
sentiment or demonstrations of affection, and while he
made a brave effort to accept the inevitable, he did it
with awkward grace; for it was the first time in his
whole life he was compelled to step down and take
a back seat. He was no longer young, and the convic-
tion bore down upon him heavily and with deadening
I saw him again several times at intervals of about
a year, and each visit told a sorrowful tale of the rapidly
failing old man. Then one day I was hurriedly called
home. The gray-haired patriarch sat in his favorite
arm chair, a chair fashioned by his own hands years
before out of well-seasoned hickory withes. He was
painfully weak, worn and emaciated. His eyes, always
bright and penetrating, took on an unnatural brilliancy
as I drew near. I sat close beside him and we talked
and talked and talked — always of the past, of those
savage days when the next meal was not always in
sight; of ditching in March when we stood knee-deep
in ice-cold mud and slush digging an outlet to some
slough or morass which we hoped to add to our tillable
acreage ; of that time when a desperate she-wolf in mid-
winter kidnapped my baby brother; of the killing of
McKim, the far- West bandit who pursued by a sheriff's
posse had taken shelter in the swamps; of Moccasin
Mike, the Indian, killed in a struggle over stolen pelts ;
14 The Swamps
of the time when I, as a little tot, wandered with our
collie, Tip, up the Big Ditch, and became lost in the
Big Woods; of the time I lay at death's door with the
fever ; of Jack Kling, the old trapper, and how he once
came upon my father dying in the woods from the
wounds of a wolf; of the time when I ran away from
home and refused to come back unless I was granted
certain privileges that in my youthful egotism I deemed
rightfully mine; of how my mother always pleaded for
me when I was in for a proper drubbing, and of how at
last she lay white and cold in her eternal dreamless
And then when the embers burned low, and my
father's voice became scarcely audible, I gently helped
him to his big wooden bed, and he soon fell into a
natural and peaceful sleep. Then I left him — left him,
as it turned out, to his eternal sleep, for no morning
for him ever dawned again on earth.
That last talk with my father of those pioneer days
brought back vividly the scenes of my childhood, and
the earlier adventures recounted to me by my older
brothers, and yet those still earlier by my pioneer father.
I, myself, have reached the stage in the journey of life
when I sit with my back mostly to the driver, and take
more pleasure in the past than in the future, and as I
recall these scenes I have formed the habit of setting
them down. This accounts for the pages that follow.
Jack Kling Finds My Father Dying
When a child I often wondered what physical
phenomena accounted for the Swamps. Then one day a
Professor from an Eastern College came our way. He
was a Professor of geology and he came to study the
formation of the Swamps. He lodged and boarded with
us. I was tremendously interested in him from the
One day after strolling over the Swamps for some
hours he asked me if I knew of any stones in the
Swamps. I did and led him to them. They were two
big boulders that lay close together in the centre of the
cow pasture. Tip knew these stones, too, for when told
to go fetch the cows he first ran for these stones and
leaped upon one of them. From this elevation, for
they were as tall as a man, he could see above the high
grass and locate the cows. Then he would make a bee
line for the cattle and bring them home.
"Ah, ha," said the geologist half to himself when
we had reached the two boulders, "I suspected as much."
Then he sat down on one while I clambered to the top
of the other and faced him. There in kindergarten
terms he explained to me that at one time in the earth's
history huge glaciers formed in the N'orth and slowly
moved towards the South. These great masses of ice
scooped away whole mountains that lay in their paths,
and carried the debris along with them. Then the
16 The Swamps
earth warmed up again; the ice melted, and left these
stones where they lay. Furthermore, in the opinion of
this professor, the water from this melting ice had filled
up a bowl in the hills and formed a lake here, a glacial
lake. But once the ice had all melted and cut off the
supply of water the lake gradually evaporated and left
a marshy muck in the bottom. Here coarse herbage
first grew, then marsh shrubbery and finally the dense
This explained many things about the Swamps;
the water-levelness of the land ; the layer of clean gravel
we always struck at a depth of about fifteen feet when
digging a well, and other evidences that pointed to the
lake origin of the Swamps.
When my father bought his fifty-acre claim from
the trapper in the Swamps and announced his intention
of making it his home, his family did not take him
seriously. But he and his young wife had talked it
over, and when they began making preparations to
move, there was consternation among their relatives,
for they, one and all, regarded this procedure as little
less than suicidal. Aside from the trappers no one of
any standing had ever gone into the Swamps with the
avowed intention of making it his home — of hewing
away the tangled forest and transforming the marsh
land into fields sufficiently dry to produce agricultural
crops. It was inaccessible ; no roads save a miry bridle
path led to my father's cabin. The isolation was com-
plete ; it was dismal, desolate, dangerous. For a woman
to live in the Swamps was unthinkable.
Jack Klixg Finds My Father Dying 17
But this healthy young couple — a strong, resolute
girl, and a strapping, undaunted youth — were
determined. They had known hard work and pioneer
life in the hills. They -were full of hope and the will
to conquer, and the day actually dawned when my
father's prediction that the Swamps would finally
become the granary of the entire section literally came
true. But what a price he and his fellow pioneers paid
to reclaim the Swamps! That first winter all but
proved my parents' undoing. For three months not
even a horse could make the trip to the hills so utterly
impassable became the snow-filled and frost-spewing
quagmires. Their provisions ran low — their flour, their
groceries, their vegetables ; all save meat ; that they had
in abundance. For bears and 'possums, coons and deer,
besides the smaller game — rabbits and squirrels together
with wild turkeys, wild ducks, wild geese and snipe, were
plentiful; and deadfall, and boxtrap, snares and nets
easily kept the larder supplied with meat. That, too,
without the aid of Long Tom and the consequent waste
of ammunition. Only when real danger threatened was
Long Tom looked to. And this occurred on more than
one occasion, for sometimes in midwinter, wolves —
hungry timber wolves — would surround the cabin and
hold my parents prisoners within. On such occasions
Long Tom was brought into play. The cabin walls
were chinked with moss and mud, and it was an easy
matter to thrust the barrel of this ancient weapon
through the soft material between the logs and train it
upon the milling pack outside. The most random shot
18 The Swamps
could scarcely fail to bring down a victim, and when
this occurred the whole pack would turn cannibal and
fall upon their dying companion. In a bedlam of howls
and snarls and fights they soon consumed Long Tom's
victim when, as a rule, after this revolting animal orgy,
they would slink away again into the deep forest, though
sometimes Long Tom had to offer up a second sacrifice
before the howling pack could be induced to leave and
allow my parents to emerge from their log fort. Lynx,
deer and bears often visited the clearing, but unless
cornered they seldom showed fight. But these grey,
slinking timber wolves in midwinter were feared more
than any other animal denizen of the Swamps. And
not without reason, for many a time did I look with
a feeling akin to awe and veneration upon a deep and
ugly scar in the calf of my father's right leg, and try
to visualize the death struggle in which the all-but-
mortal wound was inflicted. This was a story I never
tired of, and one that thrilled me long after I bore the
mantle of manhood. And more than once when we sat
together at eventide on the rough hewn step in front
of our then larger log house, with a grass smudge burn-
ing nearby to keep mosquitoes at bay, I have persuaded
my father to tell again the story of the fight with that
deadly she-wolf that inflicted the wound, and but for the
timely appearance of Jack Kling, the trapper, who later
in life I came to know and who died a pensioner of
my father, this story would have had a far different
It was a late spring and this wolf whelped early —
Jack Klixg Fi^^ds My Father Dyinc; 11)
so early that a succeeding cold spell had well-nigh frozen
her young. In this condition my father came upon this
half-perished cub, and partly through pity and partly
through curiosity he picked it up and started with it
to the cabin. No grown wolf was in sight, and my
father concluded that the whelp, not being able to keep
up with the pack, had been abandoned, according to
animal ethics, to its fate. But in this he had missed
his guess, for he had not proceeded far towards the
edge of the clearing when crashing through the tangled
woods with eyes ablaze and terrible, the mother wolf
catapulted herself from somewhere in the vicinity and
before my father knew what had happened she was upon
him. He had no time to seize a club or bring into
action his hunting knife before the wolf had felled him
and was clawing and snapping at his face and throat
with all the viciousness that her rage and frenzy could
command. He fought back desperately, and my father,
always a strong man, was a veritable Samson in his
early manhood days. Several times he clenched with
the brute and tried to obtain a strangle hold, but each
time the beast would fight and bite and claw herself
free. He did not call for help; he knew it would be
useless and, besides, it was a habit of his, a habit born
of the pioneer instinct, to fight his battles alone. He
conserved his strength as best he could and determined
to give a good account of himself. He fully sensed the
seriousness of the battle and its uncertain termination.
At this point in recounting the affair, he would often
relate in detail the trend of his thoughts ; for he realized
20 The Swamps
the contest might fall in favor of the wolf — thoughts
of his distressed and disconsolate young bride in the
cabin, her anxiety when he failed to return, the search
and the possibility of only finding his gnawed and
bleaching bones — a search that might last all summer
or the next, or the next; possibly not till some settler
years afterwards had cleared away the forest would
his almost forgotten bones be found. All this while the
life-and-death struggle continued.
Finally my father regained his feet, and while he
was extricating his long-bladed knife from his belt
which had become mixed up with his tangled and torn
homespun clothes, the infuriated wolf fastened her iron
jaws in the calf of his right leg. The grip was vice-like.
Her fangs sank to the bone. For the moment my father
was paralyzed with pain. Then he succeeded in
disentangling his knife and made several vain attempts
to reach behind and stab the brute that held on to his
leg with bulldog tenacity. But with each twist of the
body the wolf would mill around, and it became next
to impossible to reach her. Frantically he stabbed at
her head and neck but with little result. True, the
blade reached home several times, but the wounds
inflicted were not mortal and only sensed to madden
the now frenzied beast the more. All the while the
frothy jaws of the wolf were slowly tearing their way
through the deep, fleshy muscles of the leg. As one by
one the various blood vessels were severed bleeding
became more and more extensive. The whole battle
ground became crimson. This was a new danger, for
Jack Kling Finds My Father Dying 21
my father now became piogiiantly conscious that from
loss of blood he was slowly growing weaker. With this
conviction brought home to him he grew more desperate.
He knew the decision must be made quickly, and in an
almost superhuman burst of strength he turned and fell
upon the beast. Thrust after thinist he rained upon the
enraged brute each time sinking the blade to its hilt.
With a final frenzied pull her jaws now locked in death,
the wolf tore through the muscles of my father's leg and
left a great gaping gash while from the severed arteries
spurted forth a fountain of blood. My father reached
down and made a feeble effort to stanch the flow and
then he remembered no more.
About this time Jack Kling, our nearest trapper
neighbor, came upon the scene. He was just finishing
the rounds of his traps, and though the sun was nearly
down something led him in the direction of my father's
clearing. "I never could quite figger it out," Jack
would say scratching the fringe of hair that bordered
his bald pate, "but I jist naturally A^eered out of my
way until I come upon the place where George laid
bleeding to death. I thought it was all over with your
Dad ; yes, sir, it surely looked like he was done for. It
'peared to me he had reached the short rows and was
about finishing the field. I calculated his work here
was about over. I felt all-fired queer when I seed him
layin' there dead in a pool of blood ; and the wolf dead
beside him, too.
"I couldn't quite make it out though, for a wolf
never attacks a man in the open, in bread daylight ;
22 The Swamps
leastwise I never seed it done. And then I begin to
git my bearings, for more dead than alive the ornery
little whelp comes a-whinin' around its dead mother.
I soon put it out of its misery and then I lifted up
George. He warn't cold a spec, ner stiff neither, and
when I stood him up, fresh warm blood begin to spurt
from his leg and trickle down to the ground. His face
was smeared with blood and he v/as an awful sight.
Then I seed from the quiver of his eyes he warn't
dead for sure, and I laid him down again and tied a
thong about his leg just above the gap in his calf.
This kinder stopped the blood from runnin', and then
I took off my coat and cut off some strips, and with
these and some dry grass I tied up the gash. Then
George opened his eyes a little and then I knowed he
was still livin'. Then I shouldered him and started for
the cabin. ISlo, your mother didn't take on at all,
but just begin givin' orders and fixin' a pallet beside
the fire. Then she helped me fix up the leg for the
night, and wash the blood from his face and clothes and
we got him settled all right, and then she made some
penny-royal tea and we forced some down his throat.
She tore up her bran new calico dress and we bandaged
up his leg. She was just as cool as a cucumber and
never moved an eyebrow when the blood spurted the
worst. Then for the first time George opened his eyes
and said ^'Lizbeth' : and then he sorter rolled his eyes
to where I was standing and said, ^Jack.' And then he
got kinder wild and your mother and me had to hold
him at spells. He was still wrestlin' with that she
Jack Klixq Finds My Father Dying 23
devil. But towards morning he fell asleep, and when
he woke up again he was in his right mind but awful
weak. I brought venison, and your mother fed him on
broth. After six weeks of nursing we pulled him
through." And Jack might have added, "And I lived
happy, near your family ever afterward," for Jack
Kling's lot from that time on was always closely con-
nected with that of our own family.
Jack Kling and Moccasin Mike
The Rudolphs have always been pioneers. John Adam
Rudolph, the common ancestor of the family in
America, finding Central Europe dull and common-
place decided to come to America. He landed in
Philadelphia when Pennsylvania was on the frontier.
He met and married his wife, Susannah, before leaving
the seaboard. Then together they started West. They
went as far as the Shenandoah Valley, and settled on
land granted by the Crown.
But the third generation found the Shenandoah
Valley taking on the airs of civilization. John Adam
died, as all of us must, and was duly mourned by his
sixty grandchildren. Civilization always irked the
Rudolphs. They now moved on. Some trekked to the
!N'orth ; some to the West. My great-great-grandfather
was in the company that packed what earthly belongings
they needed and could carry on horseback, and headed
their caravan across the Alleghanies. The party
divided at the headwaters of the Ohio River. Some
settled there; others kept following the path of the
setting sun. My forebears cast their lot in with the
At last they decided to make camp. The nearest
white man was fifty miles away; and he a soldier inside
a log fort. The party had dwindled, too ; one drowned
in rafting across a swollen river, another died of a
26 The Swamps
fever. Five couples, two on my mother's side and three
on my father's side, formed the little colony of settlers
in the wilderness. That was all.
They settled in the Hills to the south of the Swamps.
They survived. They reared their families; and these
in turn other families. I am of the sixth generation
from that original pioneer whose honest bones lie in a
little grave on the sunny hillsides of the Shenandoah
Valley. And his gravestone is inscribed in the language
of the country from whence he came.
My immediate family marked another pioneer move,
not violent but quite as dramatic as those other moves —
across the sea and across the mountains. It required
no small amount of courage to dare the hardships of the
Swamps. Here again they were victorious; victorious
in conquering the soil and in maintaining the Rudolph
My father, George Rudolph, married Elizabeth
Diedrick, both grandchildren of the five couples that
crossed the mountains and settled in the wilderness.
To them were born six children. Five survived. One
died in infancy. Willis was the oldest, the first white
child born in the Swamps. I have always envied Willis
for he came in for a good share of the adventures of
pioneer life. Then came Jonathan a year and a half
later. Sister Luella marked the end of the first set
of children. True, William, the little baby who failed
to survive the perils of infancy, came along in the
course of the next five years, but the gap was still
further widened by seven additional years before I made
Jack Klixg and Moccasin Mike 27
my bow. And they called me Sheridan, Sheridan
Rudolph. Two years later Clarkson arrived. Clarkson
closed the record.
Jonathan and Luella married young and Willis
went away — still following the course of empire. This
set of three children I scarcely remember. It always
seemed to me Clarkson and I completed the children of
the family; Clarkson and the trapper, Jack Kling, for
he always seemed more like a boy than a grown man.
Jack Kling! how I loved the old trapper in my child-
hood days. Just how old he was when I grew to know
him I scarcely know. I doubt very much if Jack,
himself, had much idea of his age. Indeed he had
but a hazy idea of his origin. I remember him as a
jolly faced old Santa Claus with a merry twinkle in
his eyes and a fringe of thin hair bordering his bald
pate. He was short and stocky, and had muscles of
iron. "When my parents came into the Swamps Jack
was a mere youth ; my parents believed he was not much
more than twenty.
His cabin or lean-to was located not far from the
edge of our clearing. Before the episode of the wolf
had occurred during that first winter in the Swamps
my father and Jack had met several times. Once he
called at our cabin. On this occasion his embarrass-
ment in the presence of my mother, then an attractive
and buxom young girl, was overwhelming. But my
mother, a born diplomat, soon won him over to a less
painful attitude, and even induced him before he left
to remove his bear-skin coat and allow her to mend
28 The Swamps
several serious breaks to which she called his attention.
Jack was an entertaining story teller and always
remained a faithful follower of our family's fortunes,
and when I was just big enough to tote the water jug
to the men working in the woods or field, I could some-
times persuade him while resting to tell me a trapper
story of the early days in the Swamps. What a quaint
and whimsical vocabulary he had! What simple and
sometimes striking figures of speech he would use !
Always allegories and parables drawn from the forests
or the fields, from the flowers and fruits, from beasts
and birds, from the various phases and forces of nature.
N"ot infrequently they reminded me of Biblical parables,
though Jack could neither read nor write.
Jack was a successful trapper, and my father used
to recall how the giant oaks around Jack's cabin in
winter always displayed, stretched around their trunks
and pinned to the soft bark by sharp hickory pegs,
innumerable trophies of the season's catch — bear skins,
wolf pelts, coon skins, wildcats, mink, beaver, deer and
fox, not to mention squirrels and skunk. Like other
trappers he wore skin clothing. These garments were
sewed together with the sinews of deer or thongs cut
from the skins of squirrels after they had been tanned
and toughened by the wood-ash process. ^N'aturally
they were ill-fitting and grotesque. This outfit topped
with a coon skin cap with tails attached, if encountered
in the woods today, would give sufficient excuse for the
impression that some prehistoric animal was still
roaming the forest at large. I well remember the time
Jack Kling a:sd Moccasix Mike 29
I resurrected one of these ancient outfits from the loft
of Jack Kling's cabin where it had lain since trapper
days, and in a fit of childish mischief I donned it and
thus attired just as dusk was falling, passed skulking
through the fringe of woods next to one of our
superstitious neighbor's cabins. All the while I made
peculiar noises until I was convinced the whole family
had seen me and then I disappeared again into the
woods Avhence I had emerged. This was sufficient, as
I had hoped, to warrant these people in spreading a
marvelous tale of some unknown monster which they
saw at this particular time in the woods. And half the
neighbors believed it, too, though it had gathered
embellishment as it sped from mouth to mouth. Even
my father became mildly interested in the story until I
told him the entire circumstance. He tried to frown
on the prank and I believe attempted a serious warning,
but in the midst of it all he broke forth in such a hearty
laugh that I fear his admonitions fell wide of the mark.
Somehow the truth of that story finally leaked out and
"That Rudolph boy" was threatened with dire
consequences. But I continued to roam the woods as
usual, and I never met with my promised punishment.
Jack never used a gun, but with the hand axe and
bowie knife he was a formidable foe. Especially with
the latter. I looked upon him as a veritable magician
with the bowie knife. He could throw it accurately
at a great distance and stick it squarely in the bull's eye.
Jack bore a conspicuous scar on the left side of his
neck near a vital blood vessel. One day I asked him
30 The Swamps
its history. Jack reddened slightly at the question.
He seemed to be just a trifle embarrassed. "Oh, just
a little scrap with a catamount," he replied. But his
answer didn't carry conviction. He was poor at
dissembling. True, he went on to say that one day
while passing through the woods a wild cat sprang
from the branches of a tree and landed on his neck and
in the scuffle that followed he got the wound. The
story didn't convince me. But I never openly questioned
his veracity, for I saw somehow the subject was one
Jack did not care to discuss and I never mentioned the
It was not until many years afterwards — after Jack
had passed away — that my father gave me the real
explanation of that mysterious scar. It was inflicted
very shortly after my father came to the Swamps to
live, and while Jack was still trapping.
At that time there was a small Indian village on
the river to the south about fifty miles away. They
were not true Indians but mostly halfbreeds who lived
by hunting, fishing and trapping; sometimes stealing.
Occasionally some of them would come to the Swamps
and spend a few weeks in hunting. Especially
"Moccasin Mike," a rover and a thief. The trappers
always suffered when Moccasin Mike was known to be
in the Swamps. He had never been caught in the act,
but it was significant that whenever Mike was around
the traps would be systematically robbed. Jack Kling
especially suffered. He had a good line of traps and
Jack Klixg axd Moccasin Mike 31
usually succeeded iu obtaining valuable pelts — mink,
fox and lynx.
JS^ow sycamore trees — what few were found in tlie
Swamps — ^grew here to enormous size. And almost
without exception they were hollow. And from the
outside an opening usually led into the inside hollow.
This opening began at the ground and, as a rule,
extended up the trunk of the tree as high as a man's
head; and as wide as a door. Game would often seek
shelter in these hollow trees; especially birds — quail,
woodcock and snipe. In their rounds for food foxes
would invariably visit these hollow trees about the
entrances of which one could usually discover feathers
— the remnants of Reynard's feast.
There was one sycamore which was an especial
favorite with Jack, for here his traps usually bore fruit,
that is, when Moccasin Mike was not in the Swamps.
Then only the skinned carcass of the catch could be
found in nearby bushes. Jack determined to "lay"
for Mike. He was tired of supplying the greasy half-
breed with valuable pelts.
In order to increase his chances of catching Mike
with the goods, he tied a fox that he had taken alive
to a sprung trap and located it at the entrance to the
hollow sycamore tree. Then after dark Jack took up
his position inside the tree ; and waited all night ; fell
asleep once but roused himself again and waited.
He had about given up hope of catching the thief.
But just as the pale streaks of dawn shot their shafts
through the dense foliage Jack made out a skulking
32 The Swamps
figure creeping towards the sycamore. Stealthily it
moved to the captured fox; stopped and picked up a
stick to deal the animal a death blow.
At that moment Jack leaped through the entrance
that led to the hollow of the sycamore tree and landed
squarely on Moccasin Mike's back. The force of the
impact bore the Indian to the ground. Mike, himself,
was agile and strong. In a moment both he and Jack
were in a desperate struggle. Jack soon saw that Mike
meant murder and knew the issue depended upon which
one could bring his bowie knife into action first. But
when one attempted to draw he was checkmated by the
other. First Jack would have the advantage and then
Mike. N^either succeeded at first in gaining his feet.
Then together still clenched they arose from the ground.
So far neither had obtained the use of his knife.
On his feet Jack had the advantage. But Mike
was agile and slippery. It was difficult to hold him
securely enough to knock him out, for Jack never
planned to finish him, only to give him a sound beating.
Finally, in an unguarded moment Mike got hold of his
knife. Before Jack was fully aware of this the half-
breed had slashed Jack's neck. JSTo time now was to be
lost ; Jack fully realized the seriousness of the situation.
Jack was already handicapped, for the Avound was
bleeding profusely. The struggle had now resolved
itself into a fight to the death.
The gleaming knife w^as once more poised ready to
descend upon Jack's back. But Jack grabbed the
Indian's forearm in time. He gave the arm a twist ; it
Jack Kling and Moccasin Mike 33
snapped under Jack's vise-like wrench, and the knife
fell from the limp hand. Jack saw the arm was
broken. Then with an almost superhuman effort he
hurled the Indian from him. The halfbreed's head
struck the butt of the sycamore tree with a dull thud.
Mike did not move. For the present Jack saw he was
safe. With his handkerchief tightly drawm about his
neck, the bleeding from the wound stopped. Then
Jack bent over the prostrate form of the Indian. Could
it be true? Had he really killed him? Jack rolled
the halfbreed over; he was as limp as a rag. He was
Jack w^as terror-stricken. In his tragic dilemma he
sought my father's advice. He found him at the cabin
and taking him aside told him of the tragedy. Without
telling my mother w^here they were going each
shouldered an axe and started for the Avoods, to the
scene of the tragedy. Moccasin Mike was by this time
stiffening in the rigors of death.
When my father returned to the cabin my mother
asked no questions. But she always suspected what
had happened, though she was discreet. She told me
afterwards that when she heard the vigorous sound of
their axes and later saw a great volume of smoke arising
from the treetops she had a very definite idea of what
was taking place; an idea that was strengthened as
time wore on and Moccasin Mike was never seen again
in the Swamps — or elsewhere.
Dink Cherry and My Father's Wild Ride
The only other trapper beside Jack Kling that lived
in our section of the Swamps was Dink Cherry. Dink,
like Jack, lived alone, but much farther into the dense
forest. Dink was as reserved as Jack was loquacious.
But when Dink did talk it was lurid ; he was profoundly
I distinctly remember Dink Cherry, but from the
nature of things when I reached boyhood he was
necessarily well along in years. When Willis, my oldest
brother, finally settled on a claim not far from my
father's farm. Dink's profession of trapping had gone.
My brother needed help; Dink worked for him.
Like much of the human driftwood that found its
way into the Swamps, Dink Cherry's origin was
unknown; at least not until Dink was dying. He was
known as the silent trapper, he of heroic stature and
iron muscles; Dink, the inscrutable, the gloomy, the
man of moods.
At the time of my father's entry into the Swamps
Dink was in his early twenties and for some never-
explained reason he had, a few years before, deserted a
prairie-schooner caravan from the East as it wound its
way through the adjoining hills on its long and laborious
trek to the gold fields of California. After gravitating
to the Swamps he met Jack Kling and the two trapped
together for one season. This was the year before my
36 The Swamps
parents came to the Swamps to live, and though Jack
never knew any more about Dink's antecedents than
the rest of us, they hit it off fairly well together and the
season's catch proved profitable enough. In the spring
they carried their furs to the Hills, where by helping
drive some settler's cattle or hogs to the nearest market
fifty miles away, they received in turn the privilege of
storing their furs in one of the horse-drawn vehicles
that always went along. With his share of the money
received from the dealer at the fort settlement on the
river, Dink purchased his own traps together with a
few necessary household implements and utensils and
the next year he trapped on his own account locating
his lean-to a mile south of Jack's. Dink was never
the delightful companion that was Jack Kling, still on
rare occasions he would thaw out sufficiently to tell me
in his own guarded and taciturn manner some story of
his early days in the Swamps and the favorite story of
all was my father's wild ride on the back of a stampeded
The ride occurred in winter and the Swamps' winters
were not severe. But they were trying, nevertheless, for
thaws would alternate with freezing weather in rapid
succession which at length would transform certain
spongy spots into spewing, bottomless bogs. Into these
treacherous quagmires certain animals, especially deer,
would sometimes become hopelessly mired when it
became an easy matter to approach them and with an
ordinary hand axe to send them to their doom. Even
trappers familiar with this peculiarity of the local
Dink Cherry and My Father's Wild Ride 37
terrain would sometimes make a misstep and
unwittingly stumble into these tenacious bogs and
become seriously mired; for while there were no true
quicksands, still with the repeated spewing up of this
fibrous vegetable muck, it became a treacherous sub-
stance in which animals would sometimes sink to their
bodies, though seldom deeper. But in their endless
struggle to extricate themselves they would so exhaust
themselves that they finally became helpless.
In February of that first winter my father discovered
a big buck deer mired in nearby swale. The animal
was half embedded in the soft muck which had been
churned into a viscid, mucilaginous consistency for
several yards about in the stag's vain effort to free
himself. The deer had obviously been in this predica-
ment for sometime and was now thoroughly exhausted.
My father, with his hand axe and hunting knife, was
skirting the edge of his clearing when he heard a
peculiar noise — a whistling sound — that led him in the
direction whence it came. It was the heavy breathing
of the spent buck only a short distance from the open
field, and my father soon saw the situation. Here was
meat to be had for the taking, so my father thought,
and without considering the danger to himself he
rushed towards the weakened buck prepared to deal
it a death blow with his axe. Xow, ordinarily, by
stepping from tuft to tuft of the coarse swale grass that
grows in these miry places one may avoid sinking into
the oozy mud. In this manner the trained woodsmen
pass over these treacherous places, and my father had
38 The Swamps
already been taught by Jack Kling how to avoid
becoming enmeshed in them. In his excitement he
rushed unheedingly towards the buck, but before he
reached the side of the deer he plunged to his hips in
the soft, gluey muck made doubly tenacious by the
thrashing about of the buck. At once my father
realized with grave misgivings his predicament, and the
deer though well spent now made a supreme effort to
turn himself around and face his new foe ; and partially
succeeded, thus bringing his murderous antlers danger-
ously near my father's head. It was a thrilling
moment, for the buck still had strength enough left
in the muscles of his neck to thrust his sharp, hardened
horns into my father's body if in reach, and he was
working himself nearer and nearer to where my father
was temporarily mired. Even then by stretching forth
his hands he could touch the longest prongs when the
deer brought his head in my father's direction. Then
an idea occurred to him — an idea born of his desperate
straits. Instead of working himself away from the
buck why not use all his strength to draw himself a little
closer? This he did, and watching his chance, when
the buck made another attempt to gore him, he grabbed
with both hands the prongs of the deer and held on with
all his might. The buck struggled with what appeared
to be the last burst of his Avaning strength; but my
father held on, all the time shifting as best he could his
weight onto the horns. The deer with my father's
added weight on the prongs was unable to raise his head.
In this condition my father succeeded in drawing
Dink Cherry and My Father's Wild Ride 39
himself free of the mire and at last climbed astride the
deer's neck, ^ow entirely in command of the situation,
as he thought, he leisurely felt for his hunting knife
intending to kill the deer and then by leaping from the
carcass he hoped to land on safer soil. Partly to regain
his breath and partly because he was convinced that the
buck was now utterly at his mercy he did not make
haste in the matter.
But his confidence was not justified ; he had reckoned
without his host, for no sooner had he fairly grasped
the knife when with renewed and marvelous strength
the huge buck made a maddening lunge, his feet
apparently finding a solid bottom, and before my father
had fully realized what had happened the buck had
reached the edge of the bog, and straightway struck out
through the woods. In the excitement my father lost
his knife. He now found himself hanging on for dear
life while the wildly excited beast went careening and
crashing through the dense forest. To release his hold
at this lightning speed would most likely have resulted
in hurling him against some unyielding oak with the
chances favoring a tragic termination. So like grim
death he held on ; there was nothing else for him to do.
The spreading antlers formed a protection from the
tree boughs and brush and the wild ride continued. He
hoped the deer would finally become exhausted and drop
from sheer failure of strength. But the strength lasted
unexpectedly long. It seemed hours, though as a matter
of fact judging from the distance they traveled, it was
only a few minutes before the speed of the wrought up
40 The Swamps
animal seemed to slacken. Then just as my father
began to prepare to slide off, the deer would give another
lunge forward and continue the mad pace for another
stretch to be followed once more by a slowing-down
period. But each time my father made ready to alight,
the deer again lunged forward, and my father held on
"when there was nothing in him except the will to hold
The buck made in the direction of Dink Cherry's
cabin. Dink heard the hullabaloo and knew something
unusual was happening. With true trapper instinct
he seized his hand axe — his hunting knife was always
in his belt — and in the gathering twilight ran towards
"I couldn't make out what the blankety blank racket
was all about," he would begin. Then shorn of
profanity and put into ordinary English his story
would run : "I saw the black bulk of the buck stumbling
through the gathering gloom and was puzzled; I
couldn't account for its queer actions; it seemed to be
possessed of the devil; plumb gone looney. I heard a
yell. It was George !
"Then for the first time I saw your Dad's crouching
form on the buck's back. I didn't know whether the
deer had been wounded and charged your Dad or what
the dickens the row was all about. But I saw that
George was somehow uncomfortably mixed up with the
buck and I decided to interfere. N'ow I have had some
experience with a wounded buck; look at this?" And
Dink always rolled up his sleeve and showed the ugly
Dink Cherry and My Father's Wild Ride 41
scars on his arm. "They ain't always as dead as they
seem; no, sir, a buck has as much life left in it after
first killed as a cat. But to go back to George. I see
the buck was pretty well done for, the way he stumbled
along, but I wasn't taking no chances. I see George
was in no immediate danger and I just watched my
chance. It came at last, and just as the buck made
his best fall with his head kinder crumpled up between
his forelegs, I sprung at him from behind a tree and let
him have it plumb on top of the skull. That finished
him off properly; then your Dad rolled to the ground,
but fought a little shy of that buck yet though the axe
had sunk itself to the pole in the stag's brain. But the
buck was done for, and your Dad was also a little
shaken up after that wild ride. I looked at George
and he looked at me for a moment, then together we
took hold of a hind leg apiece and dragged the victim
to my cabin. George told me what had happened as
we skinned the big fellow and then your Dad shouldered
all he could carry handily and started home. And
that's all I know of the buck ride but," here Dink would
swear a great oath, "I believe the other part, too, and
I don't want you comin' around any more pesterin' me
to tell you so again." This last remark was called
forth to refute the intimation that we boys believed
the whole story was a fairy tale from beginning to end
and had no foundation in fact — a charge we always had
to make to arouse Dink up to the point of talking.
Dink Cherry always seemed by nature and in
appearance more Indian than white. And unlike Jack
42 The Swamps
Kling took to farming when game vanished with evident
distaste. It was only because of Dink's unusual liking
for my brother that he worked for him at all. I have
never seen such dog-like devotion and I have often
wondered why. He was a much older man than Willis
and in physique a giant beside him. Indeed, Willis was
the runt of the Rudolph family ; for we other boys were
all husky six-footers. Willis was always sensitive about
his size, and if any one of the gang of loafers that were
in the habit of congregating about Mr. Hallrand's store
at the Rushville station wished to embarrass him, he had
but to make some slighting remark about his size.
One day in my brother's absence a particularly
offensive member of this worthless gang greeted Dink
Cherry upon his appearance at the store, with the
question : "Well, Dink, how is your blankety blank runt
boss?" That was as far as he got; the next moment he
was sprawling on the floor. Dink with his sledge-
hammer fist promptly knocked him senseless. That
effectively put a stop to the slurring remarks about my
brother's size — at least in Dink's presence.
At the time my brother took over the claim on which
Dink's cabin stood, the trapper had "taken up" with one
of the Crowman women and had started a family. It
was at the suggestion of Willis that Dink consented to
go through a marriage ceremony with his "woman" and
thus legitimize his children. This was a great conces-
sion, for Dink, with others of his class, held that
marriage was wholly senseless and a rite of the Dark
DiXK Cherry and My Father's Wild Ride 43
There came a time when Dink, though a tower of
strength and a physical prodigy, lay dying. And unless
my brother was attending him he seemed utterly
miserable. Willis humored him as much as he could;
for, though Dink's devotion to my brother was so
marked at times that it was embarrassing, still Willis
would have been unfeeling if he allowed this loyalty
to go unrecognized. So during Dink's last illness
Willis spent much of his days and most of his nights
in Dink's cabin.
One night towards the end Dink began : "Willis, I
can't quite explain it but somehow I have always been
drawn to you; ever since I rescued you as a baby from
the she-wolf, I have loved you." As usual Dink's
language was unique and had to be reduced to under-
standable English ; only in Willis' presence it was not so
lurid. Dink lately had learned to soften his profanity.
"Well," he continued, "I never thought it was anybody's
business where I come from ; I let 'em think what they
pleased." Another pause. Then, "I know, as Jack
Kling would say, *I have reached the short rows;' I'm
about to shuffle off." Willis tried to comfort him, but
Dink knew this was only to make him feel better, "^o
good, Willis, I'm not afraid ; I've been in many a tight
place before; it's all right, I didn't have nothin' to do
with my comin' here; I reckon I ain't got nothin' to
say about leavin.' I ain't got no religion like you have ;
leastwise not the same kind." Here Willis again
interrupted him wuth some sort of spiritual consolation.
But Dink was in no mood for a deathbed repentance
44 The Swamps
scene. "JS'o, Willis," he continued, "I wasn't much of
a holy roller all these years, and I hain't goin' to squeal
now. I guess I lived accordin' to my own lights, and
they ain't the same as yourn." Then after a pause;
"But I'm not a— a what you call it?" "Infidel?" my
brother ventured. "Yes, I guess that's it; leastwise
I don't believe there ain't no Great Spirit. I've hearn
it too often — in the deep woods, in the wind and in the
sky. Yes, and in the flowers, the swale green and when
the clouds put on their holy clothes just as the sun
goes down." A new light shone in Dink's watery eyes.
"Guess that same Great Spirit will take care of me
now. Leastwise that's what my mother told me when
I left her." A startled look came into Dink's face as
he broke the silence of the years with this revelation
about his origin. My brother, also, took on an
expression of eagerness at Dink's unusual frankness.
Dink noticed it and he continued : "Yes, Willis, I had
a mother — an Indian mother. My father was a white
man — a well-known frontiersman — a fighter of my
mother's people." Dink's usually placid, immobile
face registered the emotions that were surging through
his deepest nature. My brother said : "Of course, Dink,
I'm not prying into your past; don't tell me anything
you don't want me to know; I've never asked you
anything about your life, have I ?" "J^o, Willis," Dink
replied, "but I want you to know ; I want you to see her
picture." Dink noted my brother's expression of
surprise. Then he continued; "Do you see that log in
the side of the cabin; the one with a big knot in it?
DiXK Cherry and My Father's "Wild Ride 45
Well, take the axe by the fireplace and knock out the
mud in the chink just under it." Willis did as directed.
The brats and the woman in the next room stirred.
Dink lifted a warning hand. In a moment all was
quiet again. "Xow take out that package." Willis
removed the loose moss and drew forth from between
the logs a little black case. He brought it to Dink, and
Dink opened it. It contained a faded daguerreotype
picture that could only be seen when held in certain
angles to the light. "That's my mother," Dink
explained. It revealed a comely Indian woman, young
and in native garb. Then handing the case to Willis
Dink said : "Take it and keep it for me. If Dink,
Junior, ever amounts to anything, give it to him and
tell him its history."
My brother promised. Then Dink reached once
more for the picture. He opened the case and held
it a long time before his face. At length his arms
dropped from exhaustion to his side, and Dink fell
asleep. Willis watched till daylight. Then slipping
the picture into his pocket he roused the woman and
At noon young Dink came running across the field
to my brother's house. "Mom can't waken Dad," he
cried in terror, ^or could Willis.
I, MYSELF, never saw a catamount in the Swamps. I
believe they had all been exterminated before I was
born. True, we used to have catamount scares, but I
doubt very much if these animals that certain denizens
of the Swamps vowed they had seen during my time,
were really catamounts at all. They may have been
lynx, coons, or even a domestic feline gone wild, but my
father felt quite certain that the Swamps harbored no
catamounts since trapper days.
Jack Kling believes he, himself, killed the last
catamount in the Swamps. Jack tanned the pelt of
this particular catamount and kept it. I have seen it
many times ; it was used as a throw-over or cushion for
Jack's chimney-corner chair. It must have been a
big animal and ferocious. Jack tanned the pelt with
the head attached, and what a vicious looking head it
was! I was half afraid of those gleaming teeth even
on the pelt, half afraid to sit down in the chair lest
the head that hung over the back might suddenly take
on life, leap upon me and fasten those saber-like teeth
in my throat.
Jack tells a thrilling story concerning the capture
and killing of this master-minded king of the
catamounts. It was early in Jack's trapping experience
in the Swamps. Jack had trapped a female cat near
the sycamore tree that stood at the edge of the swale;
48 The Swamps
the swale upon which our clearing bordered. It was
the same swale that was afterwards drained by the
Big Ditch. In this swale lived a colony of beavers.
There were only a few beavers in the Swamps and
beaver pelts were valuable. Jack got several nice pelts
from this colony. He usually skinned the beaver then
and there, and threw the carcass back into the bushes.
One day after a light snowfall Jack noticed
catamount tracks about the bushes. He followed them
to the beaver carcasses. The cats had been dining on
beaver meat. "I hate a catamount," Jack would begin,
"and I vowed I'd git rid of the critters by fair means
or foul. I looked over the ground, and decided to try
trapping. Then I took all but one carcass away. I
located my trap by the side of this carcass. I raked
some dry leaves over the trap. The next morning I
had a cat; a whopper — a big she-cat; the biggest she
I ever seed. And ugly ! She lunged at me like a streak
of greased lightnin'. I didn't go very near her. I
was afraid of the critter, although I had my hand axe
in my belt. I never seed such flaming eyes; they
looked like coals of burning fire. How she spit and
yowled at me! I feared she'd break the chain and
maybe git away. And I wanted that pelt powerful
bad. I was puzzled, up a tree; how to git her where
I could give her a knock-out blow without running any
risk to myself.
"How did I git her? I had a deer-hide thong with
me about ten' feet long ; I find it handy at times, especially
if you want to carry or drag a deer or bear carcass home
with you. I made a loop at one end of this lariat.
Then I threw it at her. She snarled and lunged at the
rawhide rope. It missed. I tried again. Another
miss. Then I changed my position. This time it
swung around her neck. I pulled; the trap chain held,
and it was soon over. That was a fine pelt.
"But I guessed she had a mate. I was right. That
snow melted and another light snow fell. A few nights
later I heard the howl of a catamount near the swale.
I hadn't heard a catamount since the first year I came
into the Swamps, the winter Dink Cherry and me went
into cahoots in the trapping game. We caught six that
year ; all, we thought, there was in the Swamps. Least-
wise we never seed any more; nor heard 'em. I hate
the howl of a catamount like pizen; it gits on my
nerves. Now this infernal yowling begin again. I
went to the swale the next morning. There were tracks
all about where I had taken the she. I set a trap there
again. [N'othing in it. Tracks all about the trap but
no cat. I baited the trap with fresh quail and a piece
of venison. But that cat couldn't be fooled. It was a
wise cat. I gave up trying to trap the brute.
"And the cat got bolder and bolder all the time.
It would come to the edge of the woods now just back
of my shack. And raise the dickens all night. I never
heard such wicked yells. I couldn't sleep; they made
me feel sorter creepy, them fiendish yells. Yowl, snarl,
yowl all night!
"JN'ight after night he would come to the edge of the
woods and let out them unearthly screeches. Sometimes
50 The Swamps
it 'peared to me he was right under my winder ; always
yelling at my cabin. I had the pelt of the she-cat
stretched on the big oak tree in front of the cabin. I
thought mebbe it smelt this skin, in all probability the
skin of its mate, ^ext day I pulled the pelt down and
pegged it to the inside of my cabin — up near the roof
in the loft. That night the racket was worse than
ever, and the cat come closter to the cabin. The brute
was getting on my nerves bad. I couldn't sleep. Even
before it begin its cussed yapping I couldn't sleep — just
layin' there waitin'. About midnight it always com-
"Well, after this had gone on for several weeks I
begin to get all-fired desperit. I didn't know what to
do. Several times I got up and walked towards the
swale hollerin ! The critter would stop for awhile, but
as soon as I got back into my bunk it would commence
"That beast was possessed. 'Peared to know I had
got its mate, and was set on making me pay — pay in
misery till I went luny. Leastwise it 'peared to me that
was his game.
"He'd come closter and closter every night. One
night he come right up to the cabin and yowled like a
fiend. Them yells was sure hellish. He was right at
my door; I could see him prowlin' under the trees. I
was afraid to go out for he was an ugly looking brute.
"Strange, but I never owned a gun ; I always felt
safer with a knife — knife and hand axe. But now I
wished for Long Tom. At least I could have scared
him away. I beat on the door from the inside. It
only made him snarl more savage. I was getting
on reliable; I was at the end of my string. String?
That give me an idee; why not lasso him as I did his
mate? But how? That night I lay awake tryin' to
figger out a plan. If I could only get a lariat around
his neck and choke the life outter him; choke that
infernal yowl outter the brute forever.
"Morning come and the cat slunk away into the
depth of the forest. He was gettin' bolder every night.
He jumped onto the roof from the big white oak once
and clawed at the clapboards just over the spot where
I pinned up the pelt. He pulled out one board, too, in
his attempts to break through. That was gettin' too
near home. Something had to be done.
"For the next several days I worked on a lariat. I
cut two or three tanned hides into stout strips and tied
them together. I knowed pretty well now the critter's
beat ; around by the stick-and-mud chimney, and then
back to the big white oak. I made a wide noose and
laid it next to the chimney. I passed the other end
through a chink in the wall. The cat always stopped
beside the chimney, and set up a howl. I had put
a trap here every night for a week and carefully covered
it up. That cat was too smart to be trapped. I
greased the trap with bear's grease and skunk oil, but
I couldn't fool him. He 'peared to know jist where
the jaws of that trap was. I could see his tracks within
two inches of the trigger, but he never stepped on it.
"Well, I placed the noose in position before dark
52 The Swamps
and scratched a few dead leaves careless like over it.
I had the end that come through the chink in the wall
tied to my bunk post. My bunk was on that side next
to the fireplace. I couldn't see very plain but from
practice I could tell pretty well from his screeches when
the critter reached the side of the chimney.
"The cat didn't come up that first night till nearly
two o'clock. As soon as he reached the cabin he
started in with his dismal yowls. Then when he come
around to the chimney he stopped sudden like, and
begin shiffin'. I could hear him sneakin' about near the
chimney growlin' once in awhile and still keepin' up
his sniffin'. Did that imp of satan smell the lariat?
Well, howsomever that was, he left the cabin without
nary another yowl. I was all-fired puzzled. I thought
it all over, and couldn't make head or tail of it. What
was there about a rawhide lariat to make a catamount
suspicious? Then I remembered the noose end of the
lariat was the same I used to lasso the mate.
"Could the big cat have smelled this? Howsomever,
I decided to put a new noose on and lay the lariat again.
I burned the end I had used before.
"The next night I had hardly turned in before the
beast let out a savage yowl right beside the chimney.
It was a new moon and clear. I could see the dark
form of the catamount settin' on his haunches. HDe
was yelling like the very old Nick. I tried to see if he
was settin' inside the loop of the lariat. It 'peared to
me he was in about the center of it. And lettin' out
them cussed yells; yells that made your blood run cold.
My heart seemed to stand still. I felt for the end of
the lariat. I was shakin' like a leaf. The cat let out
one shriek after another; they was blood curdlin'. I
seemed to be paralyzed with a mighty queer feelin'.
By heck, I think that big cat was part devil. On the
level I was afraid of him.
"Then I pulled myself together, 'Shucks! was I
turnin' yaller?' I brought the thong one hitch about
my right hand. With the other I grasped my clenched
fist and then —
"I pulled with such force I tumbled out of my bunk
and landed in the middle of the puncheon floor. For
a second all was still. Then the thong began to move ;
trembled and then drew taut. I had hooked the big
"For the next few minutes I never heard such hellish
shrieks. My blood froze and my flesh creeped. I
couldn't move, I was paralyzed and with the cat in my
power. I had the cat at the other end of the rope.
"Then — what was that? Gnawin'? The lariat
vibrated and the truth burst upon me ; that infernal cat
was gnawin' the lariat in two. Gad ! was I to lose
my prey after all? What could I do? Then I pulled
on the rope with all my might. It gave, and I took up
the slack around the post of my bunk. x\t last I heard
the big beast struggling against the cabin wall. In this
position I tied the thong tight to the post. With my
hand axe I went out of the door and around to the side
of the chimney. There was the cat drawn up close
against the cabin wall with the thong about his body
54 The Swamps
just in front of the hind legs. Gad ! how his eyes
blazed! And how he shrieked when he seed me!
Wicked? I never seed such a wicked-looking brute. I
was afraid of him. I wasn't sure that he wouldn't
break his leash and spring at me. I certainly had no
time to lose ; he was straining on the thong with all
his brute strength.
"I rushed at him and struck out with the axe at his
blazing eyes. I missed and his knife-like claws caught
the back of my hand and laid it open to the bone. I
struck again. The blood from my hand made the
handle of the axe slippery and it partly turned in my
grasp, but struck the brute a glancing blow. It stunned
him and I lost no time in sending home the final blow.
The big cat dropped limp and hung like a pelt to the
lariat. I went inside and lighted the fire. I was as
limp as a rag and cold. My hand begin to pain me
and I washed it and tied it up. It was now broad
daylight. After resting a bit I went out and unfastened
the big catamount from the noose. It was the last
catamount I ever seed in the Swamps, and the biggest
I ever seed anywhere.''
Joel Smart, The Swamps' First Trapper
Joel Smart, so far as any one knew, was the first
trapper to penetrate the dismal confines of the Swamps.
Joel always stoutly maintained that he was in total
ignorance of his origin. He was equally ignorant of
the source of his name. Joel claimed that when
memory dawned he was living with Indians — a claim
that finds some support in the fact that he could speak
the local Indian jargon as well as he could speak
English. He was also an expert bowman, and with
the bow and arrow he claimed he had killed many a
deer. Joel also remembered, so he declared, that when
a young boy he lived for awhile with a white trapper
in the Hills that border the river. This trapper used
to leave him alone in the cabin with scarcely any food
for days at a time. During these half-starved periods
he had to forage for himself; to hunt small game —
rabbits, squirrels and birds — upon which, together with
certain succulent roots, he mainly subsisted.
Then came a time when the trapper with whom he
lived went away and never returned. At this time Joel
calculated he was about thirteen years old, though as
to this he had no means of accurately telling. Joel
was now left to shift for himself. He turned to
trapping and continued to occupy the cabin in which
he and the trapper had lived for three or four years
longer. But at length, because of the gro^ving scarcity
56 The Swamps
of game, he packed up and started for the Swamps.
Here he found fur-bearing animals plentiful. Once
each year he carried his catch to the Hills.
Then Jack Kling and Dink Cherry came to the
Swamps, tried their fortunes at trapping and made
good. Jack declares when he came to the Swamps Joel
was living in a tepee in the most primitive manner.
In my father's time, however, the skin-covered poles
had been replaced by a small log cabin in which Joel
lived until his death.
Old Joel, or old Uncle Joel, as he was then generally
called, lived to a great age. As I remember him, when
he was very old and I was very young, he was a long,
lanky, wizened old man. I was always half afraid of
him; he had such an uncanny eye as sharp as an
eagle's, that peered out from shaggy eyebrows beetling
above a weather-beaten face. And whenever I saw him
skulking through the woods that extended almost to our
front door, I always ran into the house or wherever
my mother chanced to be. Uncle Joel took to the
rifle readily and remained a good shot until the day of
his death. His hawk-like eyes never seemed to lose
their cunning ; his nerves were always as steady as steel.
Old uncle Joel had a pet deer. I saw it one day
at our back gate. It was the only deer I ever saw in
the Swamps; for deer, with most of the other larger
animals, were either destroyed or driven away before
I was born. Uncle Joel's pet deer wore a little tinkling
bell attached to a collar around its neck. Everybody
in the Swamps knew this pet deer, and it roamed the
Joel Smart, The Swamps' First Trapper 57
fields and woods unmolested. Even the dogs seemed to
understand that it was rather a domestic than a wild
animal. The deer was interesting to the community,
especially to the younger children, because it was the
sole survivor of the deer family in the Swamps, a family
that supplied to the early settlers a goodly portion of
I was only a little tot when on this particular
morning I discovered this ferocious animal — for such
it appeared to me — standing at our back gate ; and I
ran as fast as my legs would carry me to my mother
and pointed to the deer. She knew it was Uncle Joel's
pet, and explained to me that it was wholly harmless.
She told me it was probably looking for a tidbit to eat.
She then went into the garden and pulled off a few
turnip tops together with a few loose leaves of cabbage
and carried them to the gate. At first I hung back, but
encouraged by the boldness of my mother, who now fed
the deer through the bars of the gate, I finally sidled
up to her. Here I stood my ground though fearful all
the time that this savage animal, into which my excited
imagination had transformed the little pet, might lunge
through the gate and devour me. But gradually I grew
bolder and at last was persuaded by my mother to take
a leaf of cabbage myself and feed it to the deer. This
I finally did but not without tremendous trepidation.
I drew back in terror when the deer's rasping tongue
swept the cabbage from my hand. After his choice
breakfast, the pet, to the merry tinkling of his tiny
58 The Swamps
bell, went bounding over the rail fence into the woods
and was soon lost to view.
Uncle Joel always declared that wild hogs were
plentiful in the Swamps when he first came there to
live. My father never saw them, neither did Jack
Kling or Dink Cherry. But then they came several
years after this veteran trapper had drifted to the
^'Didn't I get this twisted ankle from a fight with
a wild boar?" Uncle Joel would offer as proof of his
contention. That he had a defective ankle joint was
obvious to all, a defect that caused a decided limp in his
walk. As further proof of his assertion the old trapper
would pull his coon coat aside and display his much-
prized amulet. "What do you call these?" he would
ask; "Ain't them boar's tusks? And didn't I get them
from boars I killed right here in the Swamps?" The
necklace consisted of a dozen or more white tusks strung
Indian fashion on a string and worn around his neck.
"And this one," pointing to a particularly long and
sharp tusk, "is the one that broke my ankle." Here
usually followed a psychological pause. Some one
always asked Uncle Joel to tell about the fight.
"Well, sir," Uncle Joel would begin, taking a fresh
chew of native-grown tobacco — "long green," we used to
call it, "that was a pretty close call; mighty close. I
had no settled place to live in the Swamps at that time,
jist roved about; built my fires from flint or rubbin'
two sticks together, and sleepin' where it come handy.
N'ot a livin' soul in all the Swamps at that time ; had
Joel Smart, The Swamps' First Trapper 59
everything my own way. Blacksnakes, too ; plenty of
them, but I never feared snakes. 'Specially there was a
lot of these big black fellows at the Xorth edge of the
Swamps; the side furtherest away from here. There
was a little creek, I called it Eock Creek 'cause there
was plenty of rocks there, that run up near this side
of the Swamps. Xext the creek them black snakes was
as thick as hops.
"Well, I was rovin' up this-a-way late in the fall
one day when I heard a powerful gruntin' and squealin'.
I didn't know what it was. So I kinder made my way
careful like in the direction of the sound. I come to a
openin' in the bushes and peeped through. Fightin'
cats ! There was a mess of big razor back hogs as wild
and as savage as a pack of wolves. There was a big
sycamore tree blowed over and they was fightin' like
mad around the turned-up roots; squealin' and gruntin'
and foamin' at the mouth like hyenas. They'd plunge
in among the loosened roots of the sycamore tree
grabbin' and scramblin' after something till they could
hardly be seen ; plum dug in under the roots and heaved-
up earth. Then one would back out and all would rush
for him; him that had been among the roots. It was
an onearthly scrimmage.
"At last, I could see that every time that one of
them boars went foraging among the roots he would
come out with something in his mouth ; that's what they
all was fightin' about; somethin' they all wanted.
'What the deuce,' says I 'is that thing they go after?'
60 The Swamps
Maybe some choice kind of mushrooms, or acorns, or
tender roots, I thought.
"Well, seein' they was all busy I crept a little
closter; and I watched. They was hogs all right, but
as thin as a razor, and as tall as a calf. What's that?
Well, I'm not sayin' where they come from. Maybe
they was just common hogs from some Hill settlers gone
wild. Sure, they could live on mast — acorns and nuts,
besides soft roots and grass. I'm not sayin' they
couldn't; course they could. But what I'm sayin' now
is they was wild ; wilder or uglier brutes I never seed,
as wild as old ^ick himself. And fightin' like all
creation over something they was eatin' and that they
got from among the roots of that wind-blown sycamore
tree. 'What the dickens', says I to myself, 'are they all
so dadgasted daffy about?'
"Well, goldarned if I could make out what them
wild hogs was after in the mass of roots of that over-
turned tree. I crept a little closter behind a clump
of hazel nut bushes. Then I crawled along the far
side of an old, rotten log. I peeped over. Holy cats !
Blacksnakes ! big ones, too. Big, squirmin' black-
snakes; dozens of 'em gone to their den for the winter,
a den hollowed out of the ground by the overturned
tree; stupid like but warmed up a bit by the mild fall
"And the big lean wild boars was makin' sausage
meat of them. That's right. Hardly had a big tusker
backed out from under the roots with his mouth full
of snakes than there was a rush for him, and quicker'n
Joel S:.rART, The Swamps' Fikst Tkapper 61
jou could say scat, the wigglin' snakes was torn into a
hundred pieces. Down them snakes went, and the boars
grunted for more.
"Do hogs eat snakes? Sartinly. Tame hogs same
as wild hogs. Turn hogs into a snaky lot and they'll
clean 'em up. Sure, every one of 'em. Rattlers, pizen
rattlers, too. There used to be a rattler's den down
by the river —
"Sartinly; I'm comin' to that, to them wild hogs.
What next ? Well, I seed the cause of the shindig. I
was satisfied and was just backin' away the way I come
alongside the log when I heard a gruntin' and a rustlin'
in the bushes not ten feet behind me. I crouched down
and turned my head in the direction of the disturbance.
Jimminy crickets ! There stood a wickid-lookin' boar
with his head pushed out from the bushes. Teeth
gleamin' and bristles raised up along his thin back. He
was glarin' at me and champin' his jaws. Frothin' at
the mouth too. And them tusks ! They was as big as
cow's horns; leastwise, they looked so to me. He
warn't ten feet away from me ; two jumps and he could
be on top of me.
"I did a powerful lot of thinkin' in them few seconds
he stood glarin' at me. I had my axe and knife — I
didn't carry a rifle them days; I didn't have any — only
my Indian bow and a stock of arrows. And they was
at my tepee; moved often at that time; followed the
"I seed that big boar wasn't goin' to stand there
long, and I reached for my axe. When I moved he
62 The Swamps
grunted and come a little closter. I slowly turned on
my back; started to get up. That was enough; the
boar lunged half the distance between us in one leap.
Another jump and the beast would be at me.
"I seed now the brute meant business. He didn't
wait for me to make the next move. With a dirty
grunt he leaped for me. At the same time I started
to jump, but I wasn't quite quick enough; he grabbed
me by the ankle.
"Good thing for me the other fellows were still at
the blacksnake den; they was engaged; they didn't pay
any attention to me. I could hear their grunts and
squealin' and fightin' while I was strugglin' with that
big mad boar; hear it all, though I was near faintin'
from pain. The brute still held on to my leg ; shook it
like a dog shakes a rat. Holy cats! how it did hurt.
I thought he would wrench my foot off. Then the pain
let up for a little while; I think all feelin' had been
crushed outter my leg. It seemed numb. I couldn't
move it. Then the hog leg go but still stood glaring at
me. I got the use of my axe; raised it up, for I saw
the big boar was about to come for me again. I dragged
myself up but I couldn't stand on that foot. It had
gone limp and lifeless ; hardly any bleeding but the bone
was crushed. My foot turned under when I tried to
stand on it. I saw the boar was bent on finishin' me.
"I backed back against the log, it held me up. The
boar continued to whip his long tail back and forth like
a lion. What ? Bet your life it was a long tail ; twice
as long as any hog's tail I ever seed. And with a bunch
Joel Smart, The Swamps' First Trapper 63
at the end of it, too — like a lion's as I'm telling you.
He grunted and frothed at the mouth all the time,
moved about from side to side, his eyes blazin' like balls
"He was slowly workin' nearer. I watched him
like a- cat watches a mouse. I was gettin' ready for
him as soon as he come in range. Snappin' his big
ugly jaws; foamin' and lashin' his tail. He now begin
to reach for me. With every snap of them ugly, wicked-
lookin' jaws he stuck out his head in my direction. I
held back a little longer. That snap barely missed my
thigh. Xext time
"I let him have it square between the eyes — not the
bit but the poll of the axe. I could feel the skull crush
in. The big bristlin' boar sunk down at my feet.
"My ankle was useless and hurtin' agin like all out
doors. I was afraid the bunch of snake-killers would
find me. I crawled and limped out o' sight. For
weeks I couldn't walk on that ankle. I cut a crotched
stick and hobbled about the tepee. How did I live?
I've been in tight places before. I lived somehow —
small birds and squirrels and rabbits and sich that come
within bow shot of my bunk.
"I swore I'd kill the whole bunch of them wild hogs
when I got about agin. Or run 'em out of the Swamps.
I did. I killed most of them with flint-tipped arrows.
Some I killed with the axe ; I speared two. I remember
how the Indians used the spear when they'd go for deer
or bear. I'd lay for them along their runways. I
think I cleaned up the whole bunch that winter. Had
64 The Swamps
plenty of hog meat, too. ^ot bad — used to cook it
with acorn meal.
"Yes, sir, them's genuine boar tusks and I got 'em
all in the Swamps, too." Both my father and Jack
Kling believed the hogs were of the domestic variety
strayed away but gone wild a long time in the Swamps.
Uncle Joel never took to husbandry, and when
game became scarce his living grew precarious. True,
he cultivated a little garden but this only supplied
him with a small part of his living. In summer he
spent much of his time in the woods. Here he pro-
cured a sufficient number of squirrels and other small
game to keep him supplied with meat; this and his
vegetables kept him from want. But in winter my
father had to give him flour, meat and groceries to
prevent him from starving.
Each year Uncle Joel grew less able to take care
of himself. At his extreme age he bid fair to become
a public charge. Still he roamed the forest when
weather permitted. And we would see him almost
daily limping through the nearby woods.
Then we missed him. My father noted it, but
thought nothing of it. Another day passed without
seeing the old trapper. Still we thought all was well,
that Old Joel was hunting in another direction. A
week thus went by with no signs of the old trapper.
My father now grew anxious. He called Jack Kling
and the two of them made their way to Old Joel's
cabin. The door was closed. There was no response
to their pounding. The wooden bar across the door
Joel Smart, The Swamps' First Trapper 65
was down. Jack Kling went around to the sole window
and looked in. But the greased paper used as window
panes did not admit sufficient light to reveal the
interior. Jack and my father then held a consultation.
They decided that they would be justified in battering
down the door. They suspected the old man was dead.
"With a heavy pole from the wood pile they forced the
door. The light from the entrance revealed a ghastly
picture. Squalor and filth was everywhere in evidence.
On a pallet of dirty straw and rags lay the bloated
and distorted body of the old man. He had obviously
been dead for more than a week. An immediate burial
was demanded. It was a most disagreeable and grue-
some task. My father sent Jack Kling back to our
house for a shovel and a spade. When Jack informed
my mother of his mission, I begged him to take me
along. My mother reluctantly consented.
As the crow flies Old Joel's cabin was not far from
home, but because of my extreme youth Jack found it
necessary to carry me most of the way on his shoulder.
I was scarcely old enough to sense the significance of
death ; at least the death of a human being. I knew
that animals and birds could be killed but that was by
the intervention of man. I never thought of birds
or beasts just dying naturally. And much less of
people. My mother afterward regretted that she had
allowed me to go with Jack, for it made a tremendous
impression on my boyish mind. N^or was it an impres-
sion that made for happiness. For days after the
experience I was depressed and morbid. This was
66 The Swamps
unusual for my temperament. My mother resorted to
every means at hand to help me forget the gruesome
scene. But still I remained gloomy. The whole
of life seemed tinged with tragedy. This thing must
come to my brother, to my mother, to my father and
to myself. I never thought life could ever cease, that
we could be changed to that horrible bloated carrion
that I saw Jack and my father put into the ground.
And the ground, too, was rain-soaked and muddy; full
of worms and night crawlers. I shivered every time
I thought of it. Then they shoveled the black, sticky
mud in on top of him. I could hear every shovelful
splash in the water that had already begun to collect
in the bottom of the grave. And Old Uncle Joel's
puffed-up body was down there in that muddy hole.
Some day they would put me and everybody I love
in such an awful place. I could not dismiss the re-
volting picture from my mind. My mother beguiled
me with stories and experiences and even quit her
work and went with me to the Big Ditch and down
where the wild grapes and black haws grow. We
gathered meadow lilies along the fence and with Tip
chased a rabbit to a hollow tree. For the moment my
mind would be diverted, but again and again it would
come back to the burial of Uncle Joel Smart. Then
she tried Bible stories, but they didn't seem to give
me much satisfaction. She told me of the resurrection
of the body, of heaven where we would all meet again
and where death would never come — heaven with harps
and golden streets.
Joel Smart, The Swamps' First Trapper 67
But I was never greatly impressed with the place.
It was too vague to me, and besides, angels, harps and
golden streets never seemed quite as attractive as the
green, moist woods and birds and berries; and the
flowers and furry things. I always preferred the fields
to church, that is, up until the time several years later
when I realized the conviction of original sin and the
lost state of my soul. Up until that dramatic convic-
tion I did not concern myself about the future life.
It was just good to live and enjoy the blessings that
were spread in reckless profusion all about me. I^ow
in the ointment of my supreme happiness there was
the fly of Old Uncle Joel's passing, a positive proof
that this nightmare, death, was in our midst.
But Time, the eraser of troubles from the youthful
slate, finally softened and blurred the haunting picture ;
and again I took up my old pastimes. But the terrible
revelation had left an impression on my mind that
though softened and dimmed by distance never entirely
disappeared. Years later I sought out Old Joel's grave
and marked it with an iron stake, and still later
when the land fell into the hands of my brother, "Willis,
he set up over the little mound a stone marker. To
this day it is known as Uncle Joel Smart's grave.
The old cabin stood rotting away for many years
after the old trapper's death. We boys used to
occasionally play in it, and I remember having a
decided creepy feeling at these times when I thought
of the possibility of old Joel's ghost coming back and
A Cabin Close-Up And A Bear
I HAVE often tried to visualize the "atmosphere" of those
first few winters my parents passed in the Swamps.
In midwinter the bridle path that led to the Hills, the
original and older settlement, was impassable, even for
horses. Their only neighbors were the two trappers,
Dink Cherry and Jack Kling. The former was silent,
unsociable and was seldom seen. His cabin was more
than a mile away and his presence in the Swamps, as
a social factor, was negligible. Jack Kling's cabin
was nearer. It stood in the edge of the woods just
beyond the farther border of our clearing. It was
but a short walk across the clearing to Jack's shack.
And, too. Jack was sociable, boyishly frank, and he
liked my parents. I have often wondered why Jack,
with his nature, chose the calling of a trapper. But
for the fact that my parents came into the Swamps
to live, I believe he soon would have given it up.
So Jack, after he had recovered from his embarrass-
ment caused by the presence of my mother, became a
frequent caller at our cabin during that first winter
and frequently helped my father during those trying
days in his unceasing efforts to make life here tolerable.
For this work he neither received nor expected any
pay, that is, in money. But both my father and mother
were keenly appreciative of Jack's attitude and
rewarded him by any means at hand, for not only the
70 The Swamps
material help he rendered but also the moral support
his presence gave. From the first Jack ahvays seemed
to "fit in" with the family. By the time I was old
enough to remember him I looked upon him with
almost as much regard as I did upon my own parents.
As that first winter wore on Jack was much at our
cabin. He brought venison and bear steak; and
sassafras root for tea. He also shared his stock of
nuts, gathered the autumn before, with my parents.
My father often told me of the evenings they spent
together during those first lonesome months. When
the sun fell below the western timber line and wrapped
the Swamps in impenetrable gloom Jack could often
be seen emerging from the edge of the woods at the
farther side of the clearing. Striking across the
clearing in the direction of our cabin, his ungainly but
rapid stride soon brought him to our door. To Jack
the latchstring was always out ; he was always welcome.
The three of them were soon gathered about the blazing
fire "eatin' nuts and crackin' jokes," or engaged in
preparing the evening meal. Many an otherwise long
evening would be thus passed in comparative comfort
in the solitude of the Swamps. Jack helped my mother
in the harder work about the cabin as well as my
father in the woods. Most of his time after making
the rounds of his traps and skinning his catches was
spent in my parents' company. And in turn my
mother saw that his clothes were kept in repair. Jack
himself initiated her into the intricacies of sewing
skins together with thongs or sinews. In this way
A Cabin Close-Up And A Bear 71
she fashioned several bear skin rugs for the rough,
cold cabin floor. Also covers for the cabin bunk.
Many was the meal they took together, meals like
all of them, prepared over the living coals of the
fireplace. My father averred that never since the
introduction of the modern cook stove has meat,
especially venison, tasted so delicious as that broiled
over live coals raked forward to the earthen hearth ;
coals that were still redolent of the pungent smell of
the green wood. My mother's stock of cooking utensils
at first did not exceed six or eight articles and with
these they managed to prepare the meals. I almost
envied them when in later years they related these
experiences, for to me it seemed like a perpetual outing
that always stimulated my imagination. Then some-
times wolves would appear in the clearing and Jack
would have to wait till they dispersed before he started
on the short journey to his own shack. These scenes
became so vividly fixed in my boyish mind that even
at this distance I can easily picture them. The cabin
is filled with the savory odors of the broiling meat.
Jack takes the spit into his hands while my mother
gets the table ready, for Jack is an adept at cooking
over coals or an open fire. Many a week he had passed
alone in the forest when his meals were ahvays cooked
over a fagot fire. On occasions, later in life, we boys
used to induce Jack to come to the woods with us and
cook. BCow he could cook ! And in the absence of
venison he practiced the art with equal success on the
chicken we brought with us. So I know what a famous
72 The Swamps
cook Jack was, and it required but little imagination
to picture Jack, then a young man, in our primitive
home leaning over a glowing bed of coals while the
venison sputtered and browned to a turn under his
watchful eye. Then I can see the table made of logs
split and hewed flat with the broad ax, and supported
by posts set between the logs of the punchion floor.
I can see these three young people as they draw their
homemade chairs around the table. The flare of the
wide-mouthed fireplace cast Rembrandtish shadows on
their rugged faces. The winter winds roar through
the woods and the mighty oaks strain and creak and
moan out their defiance. A wolf howls in the distance
and the men cast significant glances in the direction
of Long Tom above the door. But there is a sense
of comfort in it all. Solitude makes of them close
companions. Their isolation creates a sense of mutual
Then after the frugal meal is finished and the
cooking utensils cleansed and hung in their places on
the wall, my father takes up his ribbons of oak and
ribs of hickory and starts a basket. Basket making
not only helped to pass the long evenings but provided
useful household articles as well. Jack whittles a new
wooden dish from the disk of maple he has already
roughly hewn into shape with his ax. And my mother
busies Herself putting together, from several separate
pelts, a new fur rug; or puts the finishing touches to a
new coon skin cap for my father. Maybe she is
starting, from her meagre scraps of cloth, her first
A Cabix Close-Up And A Bear 73
log-cabin quilt. She is not spinning wool, for at this
early date no sheep, no spinning wheel, no carpet loom
was nearer than the distant Hill settlement, and what-
ever she did in the way of household articles was of
necessity of the most primitive nature.
Then Jack and my father would talk, talk of the
weather, the woods, the wild animals and the prospect
of an early spring. Jack would tell of his experiences
in the Swamps, of that winter a few years ago that
he spent with Dink Cherry, of Dink's reticence and
solitary ways. I can imagine this trio as they sat in
the firelight; Jack in his bearskin coat, his deer
leather trousers, his coonskin cap, and his fur-lined
moccasins; and my father with his black beard, his
black, neck-length hair and his home spun clothing.
A little at the side of the fireplace and deeper in the
shadow sat my mother with her hands employed in
what they found to do. The hoe cake for breakfast
was cooking in the corner of the fireplace, the pan
covered with ashes and live coals. Maybe the corn is
also being parched for the morning coffee. At any rate
these things were done daily. At intervals Jack would
report progress on his wooden plate. Some of these
wooden plates survived till my time and I have often
examined them critically. Certainly when we consider
the implements used in their manufacture they were
a decided credit to the artificer.
What an escape these evenings must have been, to
all three of them, from the daily rounds of the traps,
from the monotonous sound of the axe !
74 The Swamps
Then as Jack arose to go to his cabin he would
cautiously open the door and listen — listen for the cry
of wolves. If no sounds were heard he would make his
awkward adieu, in his own way, for Jack never seemed
able to take leave gracefully. With the stealthy glide
of the trained frontiersman he disappeared across the
clearing and entered the edge of the woods beyond.
The embers on his own hearth glowed as he added fresh
fuel. Then he lowered the wooden bar across his cabin
door and crawled into his wall bunk. Some nights the
wind would howl and the frosty timber creak and moan
under its stress. Hungry timber wolves would add to
the dismal din. Many a night like this my parents
would lie awake in the middle of this lonely stretch of
dismal swampland and wait for the reassuring dawn.
Doctors? surgeons? priests? preachers? I^one were
within a hundred miles. They were their own doctors,
their own priests, their own spiritual comforters.
They had to be. It was fortunate that Jack Kling,
honest, helpful, ignorant Jack, lived within reach.
Without this escape, this human companionship, I fear
that my parents in that first desolate winter would not
have weathered the trying experience. Already Jack
had saved my father's life. Without him this daring
experiment of going to the Swamps must have
And yet this dismal life was not without its elements
of humor. My father has often laughed heartily at
some of the funny things that occurred in these initial
winters of their residence in the Swamps. And if by
A Cabix Close-Up Axd A Bear 75
book or crook he could fasten the joke upon my mother
his enjoyment was accordingly heightened.
My father used to take especial delight in telling
the story of how my mother one day during that first
winter in the Swamps was chased and finally overtaken
by a bear. I always thought my father greatly exag-
gerated and embellished the part my mother played in
the incident ; she, herself, frequently intimated as much,
which furnished ample excuse for both my younger
brother and me, though the occurrence happened long
before we were born, invariably to take sides with her.
That was natural enough, however, for while we
respected and honored our father's rugged honesty,
rigid uprightness, and unswerving devotion to principle,
there was lacking in him that quality of mercy that
we could always depend upon finding in our mother.
It, therefore, became an early habit of ours when we
found ourselves in difficulties to go to her rather than
to our father; for whatever our troubles happened to
be, we always found in her a sympathetic listener and
one who never considered our childish problems too
trivial to take up her time or too unimportant to
warrant her in refusing to help solve them.
So when mother became the butt of any joke,
especially when it was directed, even in jest, against
her courage in the face of danger, we boys with some
show of feeling always came to her rescue. This
pugnacious attitude which the incident of the bear
invariably aroused in us may explain, to some extent,
why my father always seemed to take such pleasure in
76 The Swamps
relating it, for he never referred to it in our absence,
which tends to confirm my suspicions that it was told
as much to stir up our protests as it was intended to
tease our mother.
During that first winter in the Swamps my father's
time was especially precious; for rails had to be split
to inclose his few acres of cleared ground in which he
proposed to begin farming, and these crops must be
protected from the depredations of our animal
neighbors, those four-footed vegetarians that could
browse away and trample down faster than the husband-
man could grow. So in order to save time for my
father it was the habit of my mother to bring at least
one meal a day to where my father was working instead
of compelling him to come to the cabin to eat.
On this particular day my mother had prepared
an especially attractive lunch. It included in the
contents of the homemade basket a jar of Avild honey.
This honey was a part of that taken from a bee tree
my father had located and looted the autumn before.
On these occasions my mother would usually include
her own lunch with father's and they would sit down
in front of a fire which my father would build and eat
their midday meal together. Then while father rested
they would sit and talk. This al fresco dining always
strongly appealed to me, and I always loved to hear
them tell about these picnic meals in the open.
On the occasion of which I speak my mother as
usual visited for a time with my father. Then as my
father again took up his axe she started for the cabin.
A Cabix CLOSE-Ur And A Bear 77
But the day was fine and she loitered along the edge of
the woods. On her way she came upon a bush of red
winter berries, and wishing to carry a bunch of them
home for decorative purposes, she set her basket down
and began breaking off the most attractive branches.
But just as she was reaching for the last crimson cluster
she heard a noise immediately behind her. She turned
around and to her great consternation a bear was at her
heels. She gave a scream that my father declared
rocked the vast solitude of the Swamps, and that
momentarily startled Bruin sufficiently to cause his
retreat from the honey jar into which he had already
thrust his muzzle. Obeying the pioneer instinct of
food conservation, my mother grabbed the basket and
made a dash for the cabin. The bear finding his honey
gone and gaining fresh courage by my mother's
precipitate flight immediately started in pursuit. My
father follow^ed, but recognizing the marauder as Dink
Cherry's pet cinnamon bear, he felt that there was no
real danger, and guessing Bruin's motive for following,
cried out to my mother to drop the basket. But she
either didn't hear him or was too wrought up to
understand. At any rate she still held on to the basket
that contained the honey. She dashed madly out into
the clearing. But the bear followed and was slowly
gaining on her. Glancing back and seeing the bear
had all but overtaken her, she became paralyzed with
fear, and her feet refused to carry her further. She
fancied her doom was at hand. But when Bruin came
up, instead of attacking her, he pulled the basket from
78 The Swamps
her hand and his muzzle was soon immersed again in
the jar of honey. At this point my father reached
my mother's side. But so convulsed was he with
laughter that he was powerless to drag the bear from
his honeyed feast. At this apparent poltroonery my
mother's fright changed to withering scorn. She could
see nothing at all funny in the situation. With her
rising indignation my father declared she began to pour
out upon his defenseless head a stream of sarcasm as
biting as a killing frost. All the while my father's
boisterous laughter seemed utterly beyond his control.
At length my mother, too, recognized Dink's pet bear.
The cause of my father's hilarity now became clear to
her. But it only served to increase her indignation.
After delivering herself of her opinion of any man who
would take advantage of a situation like this to become
maudlin with merriment, she marched away in high
dudgeon to the cabin. My father insists that for a
week she scarcely spoke to him, and that he feared the
incident would finally disrupt their hitherto peaceful
Thus he would good-naturedly continue to torment
my mother till my youngest brother and I came to her
rescue ; for my two older brothers and only sister having
grown up and left home the defense of my mother fell
wholly upon ourselves.
"What about the time the bear kept you up the
persimmon tree for nearly an hour?" I would remind
father. "I'll bet you were scared good enough then."
A Cabin Close-Up And A Beak 79
"Yes, sir, I bet you — you wuz," my younger brother
would pipe in. "And you — you — had your big
bo-bo-bowie knife, too," continued my little brother,
sputtering out his tangled words in his growing ardor.
"I bet if mom 'ud a bin there and had a bo-bo-bowie
knife she 'ud a jist cut that ole bear's head off, she 'ud;
and a clum down and come home. She 'udn't a waited
for that ole bear to eat his skin full o' 'simmons ! j^o,
"You was just plain scared, dad; you know you
was, and you have no right to make fun of mom," I
But my father always countered with, "Xow you
don't understand it at all. I wasn't afraid; not a bit
of it. I saw the bear coming for a mess of persimmons,
and I had plenty of time to climb down and get out
of his way. But I always like to see bears eat ; they
go about it so funny, especially when they eat per-
simmons; and I just enjoyed sitting up there in the
top of that persimmon tree and watching Bruin take
his meal from the lower limbs. Besides I knew I would
get him later — when he was good and fat — and then
he would turn out a lot of bear grease and steak; and
I didn't want to disturb him. Xot only that but it is
my opinion that a persimmon-fed bear is the only bear
that will produce grease that will cure colds. Per-
simmons add a medicinal quality to the grease that
grease obtained from bears that have had no persimmons
don't have. Ask your mother if the grease we had that
winter didn't work like magic on your brother, Willis,
80 The Swamps
then only a baby of a few months. Why, he would
have died with croupy colds if it hadn't been for that
grease. And your mother, too, near had pneumonia
once — ^would have had it, for everything pointed that
way — but for that precious grease. Red flannel and
that persimmon-fed bear grease in my opinion saved
your mother's life."
It was lucky we knew the story of how a bear once
kept my father a prisoner for nearly an hour in a
persimmon tree that grew at the edge of the Swamps —
the edge bordering on the Hills to the south. I say
at the edge of the Hills, for no persimmons ever grew
in the marshy lands of the true Swamps.
On this occasion my father was passing in the
neighborhood of this particular persimmon tree and he
was fond of persimmons. So bent on obtaining a meal
of the luscious fruit, he climbed to the topmost branches
where the largest and ripest persimmons hung in
While thus pleasantly occupied he heard a scratch-
ing at the bottom of the tree. Because of the thick
branches he could not make out the cause of the
commotion. But the explanation was soon forth-
coming. In a moment a big, black bear thrust his
muzzle through the thick branches of the tree not five
feet below where my father was perched. I dare say
my father was, to put it mildly, a little surprised,
though he would never admit that he was frightened.
But Bruin was not seeking mischief; he was in the
persimmon tree for the same reason that brought my
A Cabix Close-Up And A Bear 81
father there — to dine on persimmons — and after a
disdainful sniff at my father he proceeded to gather
in the fruit. In the meantime my father was compelled
to wait on the pleasure of the black bear.
"I just sat in the crotch of the tree and watched
him/' my father would say in the most casual manner.
"I watched him pretty close "
This was our opportunity; it was just what we
wanted him to say, and we would both break in with,
"You bet you watched him pretty close, 'cause you was
afraid he'd bite you."
Thus the parry and thrust would go on, father
always meeting our accusations with a suitable
rejoinder. We could never get the best of him, compel
him to admit he was scared. We even submitted the
case to Jack Kling, and Jack always sided with us.
"And," said Jack, "if George meant to cast any slur
on your mother's bravery we'll teach him a lesson ; some
night we'll dress up as Indians and take your dad
unawares and yell and brandish tomahawks" — Jack
had a collection of them — "and then see if he won't
keep still about that bear story."
This always greatly appealed to us, but whenever
we would set a definite time for giving father his
salutary lesson Jack would always plead some excuse.
So the disciplinary measure was never meted out,
and my father continued to enjoy telling the story of
how Dink Cherry's pet bear chased my mother out of
the woods and into the clearing.
Willis And The Wolf
Wolves! Wolves! Wolves! Gray, sneaking timber
wolves ! It was always a wolf, a cowardly, contemp-
tible timber wolf at the bottom of every animal crime.
Did the luckless settler discover the remnants of a
prized lamb or promising pig in the edge of the forest,
wolf tracks proclaimed the culprit that had partaken
of the stolen feast. When the lonely trapper made the
rounds of his traps, if overtaken by the gathering gloom,
it was the green, rapacious eyes of the wolf that peered
at him from the bordering brush. Did a bear or deer
fall into the clutches of the trap, it was the cowardly
wolf pack that fell upon it in its helplessness and tore
it to pieces. When one of their o^vn kind grew weak
or became disabled, they invariably turned cannibal,
and devoured it.
And so when a timber wolf fell, the settlers rejoiced ;
one less of the hated pack remained to be reckoned
with. When food was plentiful, they seldom attacked
man unless cornered or when mother instinct drove
them to acts of desperation and rashness. On the other
hand this same mother instinct when thwarted developed
a tenderness that led them to adopt lambs, pigs and
puppy dogs to take the place of their dead or captured
young. She wolves have been known to fight for these
strange foster babies with as much viciousness as they
would for their own kind.
84 The Swamps
Only in the light of this latter characteristic can the
strange experience that once fell to my baby brother,
"Willis, be explained.
^ot infrequently during that second winter in the
Swamps my father would take Willis with him to his
work in the woods. My mother on these occasions
usually wrapped up the baby, papoose fashion, in a
strong, handmade quilt, and pinned it securely in place.
Thus bundled up, my father with Willis, his axe, and a
big bear skin rug would start to the woods, where his
time was employed in clearing away the forest for
additional ground for cultivation. On the sunny side
of some big tree my father would spread out the rug,
in the folds of which he would place Willis where the
baby would coo and kick for hours, his cheeks like roses,
while he watched, with his big blue eyes, the chips fly
from my father's resounding axe. Then late in the
afternoon his lids would droop, and my father usually
returned at night with Willis fast asleep.
One afternoon in late winter Willis was in the
woods with my father. It was already dusk and Willis
was sleeping soundly. Just one more tree my father
wished to fell before quitting. This particular tree
would fall in Willis' direction and the top might reach
him. In order to remove any danger my father carried
the sleeping baby about a hundred feet away and
farther into the forest. Here he deposited bear rug
and baby at the base of a great oak, and in order to
insure protection from any stray limbs that might be
broken off and hurled in Willis' direction when the
Willis Axd The Wolf 85
tree he was chopping fell, he placed him on the far
side of the protecting oak. He chopped briskly, for it
was already growing dark. Soon the great tree began
to creak and crack and then with a mighty crash it fell
to the ground. Replacing his bear-skin coat, my father
now started to get Willis and go home.
In the deeper fringe of the forest, shadows were
already bordering on darkness, and when he came to
the foot of the oak, he could only make out the outline
of the bear-skin rug in the gathering gloom. "Still
fast asleep as usual,'' was my father's mental comment,
as he reached down to feel for Willis. But instead of
coming in contact with the bundled-up baby, his hands
only touched the fur of the rug. Then he knelt down
and his wide, excited eyes now penetrated the gloom;
but not a trace of Willis could be discovered. He lifted
the rug clear of the ground; he pressed it with his
hands; shook it; mauled it; but nothing of Willis.
Something frightful had occurred. And as the tragedy
registered its full meaning in my father's brain, he
became panic-stricken and desperate. But the loss of
his self control was only momentary; he was too much
of a pioneer and woodsman to lose his senses long.
"This is the work of a wolf," he soon decided. And
the picture of what might be happening at that very
time brought a horrifying, sinking sensation; a slowing
of the heart, a paralysis of the hand. He afterward
declared that it seemed hours he stood there by the
empty bear skin numbed and stunned by the over-
whelming discovery. Then the man of action asserted
86 The Swamps
himself, and he rushed through the brush hither and
thither; but to no purpose. ISTot a sign of Willis could
be found. He bethought himself of Jack Kling's cabin,
of flares, of Dink Cherry and of his wife — ah ! his
grief-stricken young wife. "To her first of all," he said
aloud, and to the cabin he flew. As he expected my
mother met the blow with her accustomed courage.
For a moment only she stood dazed with blanched face
and a feeling of desperate dizziness. Then she grabbed
an axe, my father his gun, and with a tallow dip for
starting flares, together they hurried to the forest. In
a moment my father had lighted a great bonfire of
logs and brush which at this time of the year, when
"deadenings" were not aflame, was unusual. These
signal fires when discovered by the settlers were usually
interpreted as signs of distress — as calls for help in case
of danger. Jack Kling saw it first and hurried to the
scene. In a few words he was told the story. "Go
down towards Dink's cabin and set another signal," my
father commanded, "xind take a torch with you; and
look for fresh tracks; whistle if you find any."
Jack's round, jolly face went white at the news, for
Willis, the first baby born in the Swamps, had already
cooed his way to the innermost chambers of Jack
Kling's heart; Jack, the bashful, the distressed in the
presence of every strange woman.
"A wolf, a ," and Jack swore a great
oath as he hurried to follow my father's instructions.
In the meantime, my mother had collected half a
dozen bundles of dry twigs and was binding them with
Willis Axd The Wolf 87
bark into torches. From the bonfire she lighted one of
them and started to penetrate the forest. My father,
after starting another fire, to act as a guide beacon in
determining directions, followed my mother's example,
and the two at a distance of about two hundred feet
apart began combing the forest. After about half an
hour the flare of Jack's beacon could be seen slowly
rising towards the starlit sky. This was encouraging,
for now I)ink Cherry would see the signal and hasten
to the spot. In the meantime, my parents burned out a
dozen flares, but not a sign, not a track, not a broken
twig could be found.
It was nearly midnight when the four — Jack, Dink
and my parents — met for a conference. Jack and Dink
had ranged to the south, my father and mother had
searched to the north. Dink, the silent, was the first
to speak. He was a man of few words and those
mostly profane. "Well, I'll be ." As usual
he opened with an oath. But pruned of profanity
Dink continued, "I can't make it out." Then after
a pause he addressed my father, "Greorge, you're sure
you brought the baby with you, that he is not asleep in
the cabin?" At this Jack Kling trying to rise to the
luridness of Dink's profanity, but failing utterly, asked
him if he took George for an idiot ; that what was his
"idee" of sense anyhow. "Well, I once knowed a man
." Jack cut him short, "This hain't no time
to tell what you once knowed; we've lost Willis, our
first white baby born in the Swamps; if you got any
idee that will help us find him dead or " Jack
88 The Swamps
choked at the word and my mother winced. "What I
wuz goin' to say, Dink, what we want is to find Willis —
what's your idee?"
"Well, I calkerlate Willis is alive and all right,
only we got to find him."
Then after a pause Dink continued. "And I'll tell
you why I think he's all right. I've been catching
whelps lately in a trap down by the big swale — think
I got six altogether — not half grown. And several
times I saw a she wolf around there, too. There's a
big hollow sycamore tree layin' right at the edge of
the swale; must be five feet through; been layin' there
since last summer's big storm. I never looked into it,
but I have an all-fired idee that Willis is inside that
there sycamore tree as snug as in his own cradle." This
sounded to Jack like the vaporings of a disordered
mind, and he told Dink as much. But Dink just con-
temptuously curled his lips and looked superior. The
two eyed each other for a moment. Then my father,
willing to heed anything in his desperation, said, "Well,
Dink, it seems like a wild man's dream, but we at least
can range the woods in that direction. We haven't
covered that section yet."
And so it was arranged, though Jack was obviously
skeptical. "Yes," said Dink, "we can range down
that-a-way though I don't say I can locate the hollow
sycamore tree at night. I know about where it is,
but I have to get my bearings in daytime to always
come upon it."
"Do you know it's the wolf's den ?" my father asked.
Willis And The Wolf 89
"Xot for sure," Dink replied, "I never got clost
enough to look into it — never cared to since I begin
getting them young whelps in my trap ; but I saw the
she wolf there several times and I sez to myself, ^That's
about where she had ^em, in that old hollow tree.' Xo,
it was generally late when I got that far on my rounds,
and I never actually looked into the log."
So Dink led the searching party in the general
direction of the big swale, my mother gathering brush
for new torches as the old ones burned out. It was
four o'clock, according to Dink's reading of the stars,
before a sign of anything bigger than the tracks of a
possum or coon could be discovered. Then Dink
Cherry, the crafty woodsman, that he was, called Jack
Kling to where he was examining a bit of marsh.
"There's the critter's track," said Dink, pointing to a
fresh imprint in the mud. "The very same one I seed
around the old sycamore log."
"How do you make that out ?" asked Jack.
"Because it's got a toe missing from its left hind
foot," Dink replied, pointing his flare to the impress
of the injured foot. "That's why," Dink answered with
an air of finality. "When I first seed that track in
the mud near the big swale I sez to myself, 'That old
cuss had a narrow escape one time. It had a bad
toothache in that toe when it sprung the trap that
clipped it off.' ]^o, sir, you can't fool me; that's the
wolf that carried Willis aM^ay. Can't you see how
deep its paws have sunk into the mud? That was
90 The Swamps
because the old she devil was goldarned pretty heavy
loaded. Willis must weigh nearly as much as a half
"Dunno," answered Jack, now immersed in deep
thought. Then after a little while Jack continued,
"Say, Dink, what did you mean by saying that Willis
would be alive if we found him?"
"I meant just what I meant," was Dink's cryptic
reply, "and I mean it more'n ever after seeing them
"Say, Dink, you are rummy; but we'll follow your
lead. Leastwise you found a wolf track; that's mor'n
the rest of us has done." Then after a pause, "Dink,
you do iigger we are near that sycamore log?"
"[N'ot far from it," Dink replied.
"Can you follow that track ?"
"Yep," Dink replied, "as fast as I want to."
"You ain't afraid to follow it, are you. Dink?"
"^o, not on account of the wolf."
"On account of Willis."
Jack was wholly mystified and pressed Dink for
"You got all you'll get tonight," snapped Dink,
"now keep your mouth shut, and don't tell George and
'Lizabeth what we seed here in the mud; just range
round here pretending to look for tracks till daylight."
Jack reluctantly obeyed all the while pondering
Dink's vague remarks.
Willis And The Wolf 91
Finally Aveary and worn my parents came up with
Dink and Jack and asked if they had seen any signs.
"Xo-o, not exactly," Dink temporized, "but I think
by daylight we might find something."
They had not long to wait, for already the lace-
like twigs of the tallest trees began to etch their outline
against the brightening sky. Dink stumbled over
something soft. He had overtaken a possum just
making for its den. The contact with Dink's foot
caused the animal to "play possum," that is, to roll over
and pretend to be dead.
"Kill it. Dink," Jack urged. "We'll have a bite of
it while we are waiting for daylight." A thud followed
Jack's command, and a nice possum steak was soon
spitted and sputtering above a twig fire. Of course,
my parents were in no mood to eat. But at the behest
of the two hardy trappers they consented to force down
a bit of the tender meat that broiled carefully over the
wood fire would, at any other time, have been accounted
delicious. Dink and Jack finished the choice cuts of
the carcass. It was now broad daylight.
"Now," said Dink, "keep together and follow me."
In half an hour Dink had pushed through the
underbrush to within a few feet of the hollow sycamore
log that lay at the edge of the Swale.
"There it is," he motioned to Jack as he pointed
to the hollow log. "]N^ow go back and tell George and
'Lizabeth to wait where they are; we don't want no
carrying on here — ."
92 The Swamps
"You mean 'Lizabeth?" snorted Jack. "If jou do,
she ain't goin' to make no trouble; better tell 'em to
follow; we may need 'em."
"All right/' Dink assented though plainly skeptical
about my mother's ability to refrain from "carrying on"
if the worst happened ; or the best, as Dink hoped. In
either case he had no confidence in my mother's self
When my parents came up. Dink announced his
surmise that Willis was in the hollow log. "I believe
he is safe and if we work it right we'll get him out
without a scratch." Then he turned his eyes on my
mother, half expecting her to promptly go into "a spell."
But she did nothing of the kind and Jack gave Dink
a look of "I told you so." Instead my mother took the
liveliest interest in the plan of approaching the log and
gave several practical suggestions as to disposing of our
forces. Jack Kling took little stock in Dink's belief
that Willis would be found safe in the hollow of the big
sycamore log, "For," said he, "how in tarnation could
a wolf carry that baby all the way to the log without
injuring him ?"
"Easy enough," said Dink; "wasn't he wrapped
and pinned tight as a papoose in that log-cabin quilt?
The wolf's teeth would never touch him; and besides
how do they carry their own whelps around from place
to place without hurting them. I seed a wolf ."
"I^ever mind what you seed, we're waiting ; how are
you going to go up to the log?" Jack interrupted
Willis And The Wolf 93
Dink announced his plan and took command of the
arrangements. Jack and Dink armed with their axes
and knives were to approach the open mouth of the
log from opposite directions while my father similarly
armed was to take up a position in front and some
distance away from the entrance. My mother was to
keep in his rear.
Gradually and cautiously Dink and Jack closed in
on the log. Then they stopped and listened. Jack
thought he heard a stir within. Both now approached
the opening one on either side. Dink stooped over the
rim of the log and peered in. Far back in the darkness
of the interior two blazing balls of fire met his eyes.
"She's there," Dink whispered, "and she's going to fight
to the last ditch." They didn't have long to wait, for
following the sound of scraping claws against the dry
dead wood inside, the she wolf's muzzle appeared at the
entrance growling in a most menacing manner. Jack
made a swing at the enraged beast's head, but in his
haste the axe fell short, and the wolf withdrew again
into the interior. But not for long.
Again the snarling head of the wolf appeared at
the opening. Dink waited till her head, with jaws
snapping and snarling first at him and then turning in
Jack's direction, was clear of the opening. Dink's
eyes were steely; his muscles like iron. Measuring the
distance with his eagle eyes and awaiting till the wolfs
head was turned toward Jack, he swung his axe aloft
and then with the force of a pile driver and the speed
of an arrow it fell upon the projecting head. The axe
94 The Swamps
struck fairly on top of the wolfs skull and all but
severed the head in twain. With a deep, gurgling
groan and frothing blood at her mouth, the wolf sank
to the floor of the log in a quivering, twitching mass
of limp flesh. The axe, still wedged in the wolf's skull,
was with some difficulty wrenched away. My parents
rushed up, and the three men dragged the body of the
wolf clear of the log. My mother in her anxiety
started to crawl into the interior of the log, but my
father restrained her. At the same time Dink warned
them that the she wolf's mate might be within.
Cautiously he lowered his head and shaded his eyes and
took another look within the dark hollow of the log.
All was silent save a stirring sound as of rustling leaves.
"The coast is clear I guess," Dink announced as he
began to crawl into the log. Jack and my parents
hovered about the mouth of the log and strained their
ears to catch the least sound inside. Their hearts beat
violently. Minutes seemed hours. They could not see
beyond the dark bulk of Dink's body as it squirmed its
way farther and farther into the cavernous hollow of
the giant sycamore. Then they heard a gurgling sound,
the soft coo of a crowing baby. A fervent "Thank
God !" escaped from my mother's lips. A few minutes
later Dink backed out of the log with Willis in his
Willis was still encased in his log-cabin quilt with
not a pin disturbed. My mother clasped her unscathed
baby to her breast in a frenzy of joy, crying and
laughing at the same time. She rocked the now cooing
Willis And The Wolf 95
boy on her breast. Dink sat in a limp heap on the end
of the log. My father was overwhelmed with joy.
Some time was required before the searchers again
gained command of themselves. Then Jack Kling
began to build a fire, for the chill morning air, as re-
action set in, now penetrated to the bone.
My mother sat on a log in front of the crackling
fire and prepared to give Willis his breakfast. But
Willis was indifferent to the breast. Instead he gurgled
and waved his chubby fists aloft all the while refusing
to take the proffered meal. This was a matter of
surprise to all of them. Then Dink, winking at Jack,
motioned to the moist teats of the dead wolf.
The First Crop And The Last Wolf
The result of my father's first attempt at farming in
the Swamps was most gratifying. The trapper who
occupied the cabin before it fell into my father's hands
had partially cleared away about two acres of the
surrounding forest. During his first winter here my
father removed the remaining underbrush and logs
from this land and prepared it for planting. The
following summer, as luck would have it, proved to be
unusually dry. This worked out to the vast advantage
of his experiment, for normally the Swamps undrained
was too wet for growing farm products. Contrariwise,
the season proved unfavorable for farming in the Hills,
for here the land to grow good crops required no small
amount of moisture.
So my father fenced and planted his two acres;
fenced it w^ith a high stake-and-rider rail fence, for
deer would consume and trample down faster than
the farmer could grow, and deer at this time were
From his relations in the Hills he obtained seed.
It was a laborious task from planting to harvest, for
this root-matted, virgin forest soil for the most part
had to be prepared and cultivated by hand. True,
old Ned with a single-shovel plow, did what he could,
but tree stumps and unrotted roots so seriously
98 The Swamps
handicapped horse cultivation that the hoeing, digging
and weeding fell largely to my father's hand.
But if the lahor was great, the harvest was abundant.
N'ever had my father seen such vigorous vegetation;
never had he known such mammoth growths. Corn
grew to the height of young saplings; potatoes burst
the ground asunder; cabbage headed into incredible
size. Turnips reached the dimensions of small pump-
kins, while my mother's garden of salads, savories,
and legumes grew into a tangled mass of luxuriant
herbage. It was a bumper crop, and the family's
supply of farm products for the next winter was
The news of my father's success at farming in the
Swamps soon reached the Hills, and many of his
relations undertook the tiresome horseback ride through
the forest to his clearing to verify in person these rosy
reports. One and all were amazed at the achievement.
Some of them "came to scoff, but all remained to pray."
Interest was at once aroused in the despised Swamps.
But while it was now conceded that the soil of the
Swamps possessed almost inexhaustible fertility, still
the next summer, a normally seasonable summer,
resulted in utter failure. The ordinary rainfall proved
sufficient to drown out all crops in the Swamps. My
father was disappointed but not discouraged. He knew
that once the Swamps could be successfully drained,
he held in his hand the key to tremendous agricultural
possibilities. But how to drain the Swamps — that
was the question. It was plain to him that without
The First Crop And The Last Wolf 99
an adequate outlet the old lake basin would always
remain too wet for agriculture.
In the autumn following that second summer he
took my mother and baby brother, Willis, to the Hills.
Here he left them in care of his parents while he
prepared to make a tour of investigation around the
rim of the Swamps. xVfter a week on horseback he
returned and announced his findings. At the south-
western border of the Swamps he discovered a deep
ravine that extended through the rim and took off in
the direction of the river. At the bottom of this ravine
trickled a small stream. This stream he traced to the
level of the Swamps. It was fed from this extensive
area of marshland. This ravine obviously was the
ancient outlet of the glacial lake. But with the melting
of the ice eons of ages ago, and the consequent cessation
of the supply of water, the overflow had dwindled to a
little, trickling stream.
But to my father it meant a means of draining
the Swamps. By deepening this ravine and extending
the channel into the heart of the Swamps the surplus
water could be drawn off. But where could the means
to do this big job be obtained? The Hill farmers were
well enough off but possessed no extra time or money
for the undertaking. Then, too, my father's claim
lay far away from this ravine. It would require years
to hew down the forest and extend the canal to his
possessions. It was a discouraging outlook, but my
father never lost faith in its final accomplishment.
He induced several of the family relations to go
100 The Swamps
with, him to the ravine. It was only a day's ride
there and back. They agreed that the plan was
feasible, and one of his brothers took up a claim just
inside the Swamps opposite the outlet. This farm
would be the first to reap the benefit of the drainage.
This brother, Uncle Allen, the next winter began
clearing away the forest on his claim. What trees
he failed to fell he turned into a ^'deadening," that is,
he girdled them by chopping through the bark all the
way around the outside which resulted in the death of
the tree. This formed a "deadening" which in a year
or two could, in a dry period, be fired and almost
completely burned to the ground. The firing of a
deadening always proved to be a strong appeal to my
boyish imagination. Indeed, a deadening in full blast
was far from a commonplace sight. This was always
done at night because at that time the dew rendered
the dry grass of the surrounding fields less liable to
catch on fire and thus spread to the farmstead property
where sometimes it did considerable damage. Even at
night a fully fired deadening required constant
watching; for the burning brands from the topmost
branches of a tall tree often were carried, with only
a slight wind, far out of the burning timber and into
the nearby fields. When an incipient blaze would in
this manner start, it was the watcher's business to
hasten to the spot and beat out the blaze before it got
out of control.
And so I early came to look forward with more than
ordinary interest to such nights that my father might
The First Crop And The Last Wolk 101
select as suitable for firing the deadenings. And, though
still but a tot of a boy, I early prevailed upon my
mother to allow me to go with him. In this he usually
concurred, for he generally set me beside a tree outside
of the deadening where I watched the spectacular sight
with the wildest excitement and delight. I know of
no other scene in the Swamps that so violently stirred
my imagination. For hours at a time from my vantage
position I would gaze upon the naked boughs of the
skeleton trees outlined in pulsating flame against the
starlit sky, while my unshackled fancy would run riot
in the most impossible manner, and I would dream the
most impossible dreams.
So my uncle began seriously to clear away the
forest from his Swamps' claim — an undertaking
enthusiastically encouraged in every way by my father.
It is remarkable how soon these forest lands can be
brought under cultivation. Uncle Allen's farm was
a paying proposition in a few years. He and several
others of the Rudolph family deepened the ravine
and his farm was now secure against failure of crops
from a too abundant supply of water. Uncle Allen
repeated my father's experience in agriculture, but with
this important difference that Uncle Allen could reason-
ably expect bumper crops at all times, while my father
with his undrained land could only in rare dry seasons
With the promise of adequate drainage, other
claims in the Swamps were now rapidly taken up,
each striving to obtain land nearest the outlet. In a
102 The Swamps
short time the claims had reached my father's clearing.
He was now hopeful that the "Big Ditch," for such
the undertaking had come to be called, would soon reach
his farm. This achievement would place prosperity
within his grasp. JSTor were his hopes long to be
deferred, for a dozen years before I was born the Big
Ditch became a glorious reality; a golden gulch that
brought comfort and competence to the settlers of the
Swamps. Along its borders the forest melted away at
the sound of the axe and the flare of the flame, and
flourishing farmsteads took its place. The Big Ditch
finally extended to the border of the Big Woods, a
section of the Swamps o^viied by some obscure federal
oflicial whom we never saw and who, no doubt, obtained
the grant in payment for some political favor or
through his public office. Of this we never knew. We
only knew that the Big Woods remained undisturbed in
its primeval wildness long after the remaining two
thirds of the Swamps had been transformed into profit-
able farms. When I had reached manhood's estate
and left the farm, the Big Woods, the scene of many
a childhood adventure, still stood in its unperturbed
and gloomy silence.
So the Big Woods marked the limits of the Big
Ditch, though sprawling streams found their way from
the depth of the forest into the more orderly channel
that, fashioned by human hands, carried the surplus
waters from the fertile farms through ravines in the
Hills to the turbulent river fifty miles beyond.
From the Big Ditch lateral ditches were dug, and
The First Crop And The Last Wolf 103
into these, underground tiles led; so that, with this
complete drainage system, the Swamps were finally
reclaimed and settled. My father had the satisfaction
long before he died of seeing his dream and his
prophecy come true — that the Swami)s would finally
become the great granary of all the surrounding country.
Romance? I know of no epic more stimulating and
arresting; I know of no achievement more compelling
than the reclaiming of the Swamps by these hardy
pioneers, the initiatory and moving spirit of whom was
Time passed, and with it epochal changes occurred
in the physical features of the Swamps. Gloomy
marshes, through the incessant swing of the resounding
axe, now lay blinking in a flood of solar light. The
dismal croak of the bullfrog gave way to the chirp of
the robin and the cheery notes of the mocking bird.
Lichen-covered oaks fell in the path of the plowshare.
Coarse swale grass was crowded out by the waving fields
of wheat and oats. Snake-infested bogs were drained
and turned into fields of glossy corn. The trails of the
wolf and bear and deer became the paths of sheep and
cattle as they browsed through the remaining woodland
lots. Grouse followed the growing grain, and the wild
turkey made room for his domestic brother now
gobbling out his notes of contentment in barnyard and
meadow. Roads were built and vehicular travel flowed
through the Swamps. And the Swamps, as such,
The older children, Willis, Jonathan, and sister,
104 The Swamps
Luella, saw many of the spectacular features of the
Swamps pass away before I was born. They witnessed
the digging of the Big Ditch, the construction of the
first corduroy road into the Swamps, and the passing
of all the big game. They remembered the virgin forest
where I only saw smiling fields. They saw the old
log cabin enlarged, weather boarded, and plastered.
The stick-and-mud chimney and earth fireplace gave
way in their time to the wood stove and the fireplace
of brick. They also saw the old mud-sill railroad push
its rickety way to Hilton, a settlement of some
importance to the east of the Swamps, which later
became the rural metropolis of this part of the state.
One of my greatest regrets was in not having been
born first instead of the last but one of the family; it
was Willis that I especially envied — envied him the
thrilling experiences he had in those early days, even
when he was carried to the den of the wolf, though
being a baby at the time he remembers nothing of this
episode. He has, however, very good reasons besides
the scar on his left arm to remember that fight he had
one morning with a wolf — the last wolf, it is generally
believed — that ever ran wild in the Swamps. Willis
never grew as tall as the other children, most of whom
reached nearly six feet. Jack Kling always insisted it
was wolf's milk that stunted his growth, the breakfast
he took in that sycamore log where they found him on
that memorable morning in the she wolf's den. This
thrust was always given with one of Jack's most
ingratiating smiles, though Willis never seemed to
The First Crop And The Last Wolf 105
wholly enjoy the joke. But what Willis lacked in
stature he made up in wiriness, resourcefulness, and
endurance. Otherwise, he could never have killed thc^
wolf as he did in a hand to hand combat.
Wolf tracks had been seen that winter in the swale
just back of our house — the swale that the Big Ditch
finally drained. Several of father's sheep had been
killed that winter, too, and it was plainly the work of a
wolf — a lone wolf, for only single tracks had been seen.
My father was anxious to rid the Swamps of this sole
survivor of the predacious pack. Willis took one of
Jack Kling's old wolf traps, greased it, and set it in the
swale. But the wolf was wary. Tempting bait was
spread around. The bait disappeared, but the trap
remained unsprung. Jack Kling looked over the ground
with Willis. Jack scratched the fringe of hair
bordering his bald head and thought. Then they
concealed the trap a few feet away and replaced the bait
in its original position. This was Jack's idea of
disarming suspicion. He argued the bait revealed to
the wolf the location of the trap. But by concealing
the trap a few feet away from the bait the old veteran
might spring it unawares. In this manner he hoped
to outwit the wolf; he reasoned the marauder would
step on the trap outside the rim of the bait where least
expected. "That wolf has been nipped by a trap
before," Jack argued, "and bait is a signal for him to
watch his tracks."
106 The Svv^amps
It was dark when the two of them left the swale for
home. Willis had great faith in the old trapper's
Willis was up before daylight the following morning
and slipping out of the house unnoticed was soon on his
way to the swale. Through the clearing he made his
way easily enough, but as he entered the swale where
timber still stood, objects were indistinct. He knew
he was in the neighborhood of the trap, but fearing he
might accidentally spring it on his own leg, he moved
about cautiously. While thus engaged in trying to
locate the trap he stepped on what seemed to be the
butt of a tree. Immediately the object sprang up and
was upon him. Now by this time Willis and most
other dwellers in the Swamps had given up the habit of
carrying bowie knives and hand axes. They had served
a useful purpose in early days, but now implements of
husbandry had taken their place. So Willis was on
this occasion wholly without weapons.
With the sudden impact Willis Avas born to the
ground. After the first stunning sensation he realized
what had happened. He had stepped on the trapped
beast as it lay silent and crouching at Willis' approach.
Knowing that the wolf was limited in his range by the
length of the chain attached to the trap, Willis' first
thought was to spring beyond the infuriated animal's
reach. But in the darkness he could not make out on
which side of him the trap was tethered. If the wolf
had reached his limit in the direction in which Willis
lay, a slight quick movement would place him beyond
The First Crop And The Last Wolf 107
the wolf's reach. On the contrary, the movement might
bring him into a fairer range of the trapped beast with
the likelihood of the wolf springing upon him. This
would mean a bare-fisted fight with the chances favor-
ing the wolf. Meanwhile the flaming eyes of the wolf
were but a foot away, and Willis decided to spring. All
of this occupied but a few seconds but seemed many
minutes to Willis. But at the instant Willis started
to move, the frothing jaws of the w^olf shot out and
fastened themselves with the grip of a vise upon my
brother's left forearm. For a moment Willis was
stunned. The pain was excruciating. With each
guttural growl the wolf's fangs sank deeper into the
flesh. T^ot for a moment did the infuriated beast relax
its hold. Willis' arm became paralyzed. He now fully
realized the desperate situation. He was as hopelessly
trapped as was the wolf. There was nothing to do but
fight as best he could with his free hand. But how?
He seized the wolf's throat ; tried to choke the frothing
beast. But without effect. The milling of the wolf
only tore wider the wound in Willis' arm. Blood
flowed freely from the lacerated muscles. Here was
a new danger — the loss of too much blood. Willis felt
faint. He realized he must act at once. Then rallying
he gouged and dug with his sharp finger nails at the
wolf's flaming eyes. But this only increased the
tortured beast's threatening growls.
The tough film of the eyeballs refused to yield to
Willis' fingers. He hoped if he could blind the beast
it would relax its grip on his arm and free him from
108 The Swamps
his precarious position. But failing in this Willis, who
had to some extent fortified himself against the excru-
ciating pain, now began to cast about him for some
other means of relief. The light of the coming dawn
filtered in between the tree trunks and revealed objects
on the ground. At this time "Willis noticed a hard, dry
piece of hickory twig lying within reach. This he
obtained with his free hand. It was about an inch in
diameter, and with this implement Willis began a
second attempt on the wolf's eyeballs. This time he
was successful in puncturing the film. With a plunk
the jelly-like substance of the eye fell upon his hand.
This he thought would result in the wolf's relaxing its
hold on the arm. But in this Willis was mistaken.
The infuriated beast only clinched his jaws tighter,
all the while giving forth terrific guttural rumblings.
Then in his desperation Willis bored out the other eye.
Still the vise-like grip continued. Death alone seemed
now the only means that would bring about a relaxa-
tion of the wolf's jaws. Kow Willis knew that the
optic nerve led directly into the brain. If he only
could reach this vital center through the eye socket,
he thought he might kill the wolf. He tried to push
the hard stick along the track of the optic nerve, but
each time it stopped short of its goal. The bony plates
of the socket refused to yield. Then once more he
searched the ground for anything that might aid him
in finishing the wolf. His eye fell upon a short block
of wood that had been broken from a stout branch of a
nearby tree. This he could reach. It was solid and
The First Crop And The Last Wolf 109
heavy enough to bo used as a hammer. An idea occurred
to him, and he immediately put it into execution. The
stout hickory peg still remained tightly wedged in the
empty socket of the wolf's eye. Using the block as a
mallet he struck the peg a sharp blow. It moved
perceptibly towards the animal's brain. He repeated
the blow with a like result. Blow after blow he now
dealt the disappearing peg till at last the moaning
wolf sank to the ground. Still the grip on Willis' arm
remained and he was obliged to sink to his knees with
the sagging body of the beast. One more blow he gave
the peg which drove it flush with the outer rim of the
eye. Then after a final quiver the wolf gave no further
signs of life. The jaws slowly relaxed, but even then
Willis was compelled to insert a stick between the
teeth and pry the fangs out of the flesh of his arm.
Willis lost no time in reaching the house where,
while my mother bound up his arm, he related his
adventure. In a little while Jack Kling arrived from
his cabin where he still kept bachelor's hall, to go to
work with my father. "So you got the old cuss, did
you, Willis ?" Jack remarked after hearing my brother's
thrilling escape. "Well, we'd better drag his carcass
up to the house, and skin him, for it's the last wolf
pelt you'll ever get in the Swamps," which proved to
be the case, for from that time to the present no wolf
has ever been seen in this part of the state.
Clarkson's Operation And Biddie's Eggs
To PASS from the early period of the Swamps to the
time of memory's dawning is like closing a book of
fairy tales to take up the prosaic perusal of authentic
history. iN'ot that these adventures of my elders have
no foundation in fact — on the contrary they are mainly
records of actual happenings — but I have always
invested the period to which they belong with an en-
nobled robe of romance and mystery that I find almost
entirely absent in the personally remembered days that
follow. Yet, when in retrospect, I bridge the chasm of
the years and roam the countryside again with Charlie
and Albert and Tip and old Sounder, I find my heart
beating faster as I recall each exciting episode — coon
hunting, fighting, exploring the deep woods, clandestine
reading of penny dreadfuls, foraging for food, camping,
tramping, running away from school, and finally that
dramatic moment when I decided to cast parental
authority to the winds and order my actions as I
personally pleased. All of these memories fraught with
excitement, humor, and pathos have etched their impress
deep upon my mind, and loom large to me even across
the shadows of Time ; and as I recall them I experience
again much of the emotions that went with them when
the world was young and cloudless, and the sky bending
above my path was ever tinted with the softest hues.
112 The Swamps
I owe much of the thrill I got out of these common-
place happenings to my always vivid imagination. By
the same token many of my troubles and sorrows came
from purely imaginary sources. Did I see at night
a stump on fire in the forest, my imagination forthwith
transformed the points of light into burning eyes of
some ferocious beast that was about to advance and
devour me. On the other hand I could conjure up at
will the most wonderful scenes and transform ordinary
objects into priceless and rare possessions. Tip, at the
behest of my imagination, swelled to the proportions of
an elephant, when caparisoned in a scrap of colored
cloth with a discarded water pail inverted howdah-
fashion on his back, he became a member of the royal
herd of some Oriental potentate, and for hours I
dragged the utterly bored dog through his part in my
improvised Durbar parade. Many a winter's day my
mother became a royal personage — a queen or a duchess
— and while she sat at her sewing, or pared apples or
potatoes for the daily meal, I made my obeisance before
her, swore my eternal fealty to her, exalted her above
all common people, and in a score of other ways
doubtless interfered in no small manner with the even
pursuit of her domestic duties.
It naturally followed that after my first visit to
the strolling show that once drifted into Hillton I
organized a circus of my own and tried in vain to make
Tip jump through a paper-covered hoop. I captured
for this enterprise my mother's domestic fowls, drew
pigs and lambs into the arena, and ended up with a
Clarkson's Operation And Biddle's Eggs 113
collapse of the grandstand In which calamity I injured
two pigs and one lamb and killed three of my mother's
best chickens. That night my father issued a stem
edict against holding any more circuses upon his royal
And so through the alchemy of my imagination I
was continually metamorphosing this work-a-day world,
through which I adventured in my early childhood
days, into a wonderland of magic, a supernal and
arresting realm. Xor did these enchanted manifesta-
tions always cease with the coming of sleep, for in my
dreams, especially if my always ravenous appetite got
the better of my discretion, I continued to deal with
monsters and battle with giants that towered to the sky.
In looking back into the distant past, I have
frequently followed the path of memory to its last
conscious signpost, the remotest incident that I could
recall. In this earliest episode my baby brother,
Clarkson, played the leading part. As my mother
recalls the incident, he was then not more than two
months old ; and since I was not quite three years older
than my brother, my age could not have exceeded much
more than that difference. I have seen accounts that
set forth claims of certain people who have remembered
happenings and things at a much earlier age; but try
as I would, all beyond this occurrence is absolutely
It seems some kind of an abscess had developed
under Clarkson's scalp, and it became necessary to lance
it. For this operation Doctor B. D. Grayson, the old
114 . The Swamps
country doctor, was called in — Doctor "B. D." we
always dubbed him for short. Upon his arrival I was
invited to play outside in the yard, and while I
reluctantly obeyed I played but little, for I saw that
something out of the ordinary was about to occur. A
kettle of hot water was brought into the front room.
A piece of white muslin was torn into strips and hung
over the back of one of the chairs. The wash basin
was placed on the floor while Doctor B. D. unpacked
his saddle-bags which he always carried slung across
his horse's back. A peculiar smell of drugs came to
me through the half-open door, all of which wrought
me up tremendously and my curiosity and interest knew
no bounds. To play with any enthusiasm was out of
the question, and I hung as closely as I could without
attracting attention about the partly opened door.
Then my mother brought Clarkson from the back
room and placed him across her lap, his head hanging
over the empty basin on the floor. Doctor B. D. now
drew a chair to the one in which my mother sat and
disposed his instruments and bandages about the top
of a little table alongside. My eyes fairly bulged out
of their sockets at these mysterious preparations, and,
since I was now in little danger of being discovered,
I drew nearer to the opening. Taking a shiny knife
from his case the Doctor plunged it into my brother's
head. Clarkson uttered a piercing scream as a stream
of blood spurted out and fell into the basin below. I
closed my eyes and clutched at the door. My brain
swam and I grew dizzy. Still this revolting sight
Clakksox's Operation And Biddie's Egos 115
fascinated me, and I braced myself as I again opened
my eyes. There lay my baby brother screaming in my
mother^s lap, while the Doctor was bathing the wound
with hot water. It was a most tragic sight, and I
watched and watched till they kad bound up my
brother's head and taken him to the back room. Then
Doctor B. D., after collecting his belongings and replac-
ing them in his saddle-bags, made for the door. I was
riveted to the spot and had to make an effort to move.
But the fear of being discovered in my eavesdropping
urged me to action and I disappeared behind the house
just as the Doctor made his way through the door.
When he had mounted his sorrel nag and had
disappeared down the muddy road I ventured within.
My mother must have noticed my distraught expression,
for after she had composed Clarkson as best she could,
she turned her attention to me. "Why Sheridan, boy,
what's the matter?" I did not answer. And then she
tried to explain that it was for Clarkson's good, that he
was sick and now would get well. But I still remained
silent. I did not react sympathetically to her explana-
tion; I was puzzled, and the horrible sight of the two
of them mutilating my little brother dominated my
brain. My mother took me to her arms and pressed
me to her bosom, but I drew away and slid down from
her lap. When she left the room, I tip-toed back to
where my little brother lay. Blood had soaked through
the bandages and formed red spots. I reached out my
hand and touched them. They were warm and sticky.
It gave me a shiver. Then I slipped out of the house.
116 The Swamps
Tip joined me and I tried to play, but with little
success. At intervals I would stop playing and
rehearse in my mind the tragic scene. All that night
I dreamed of giants with flashing knives slashing at
Clarkson's head. Once in my nightmare my mother
took me up and placed me in bed with her. Here I
slept till morning.
In a short time Clarkson recovered, and after a while
the incident was sufficiently forgotten to enable me to
go on with my daily joys. But from that time till I
was far along in my teens I could never see Doctor
Grayson without feeling an uncomfortable sensation
that made me ill at ease in his presence.
For several years succeeding Clarkson's operation
I can recall no outstanding incident, though many
things — places and people — were very clearly established
in my mind at the time this next episode occurred. I
was probably four or five years old though of this I
am not certain; my mother could not definitely
remember my age at the time. "You were a very little
boy," she would say in referring to the exploit, "too
little, in fact, to take your escapade as seriously as you
did." The incident was associated in my mother's
mind with the old mudsill railroad that ran to Hillton
and it was the same summer the flat rails were taken
up and replaced by a more modern type. A station
had been located on this branch road at a point nearest
our farm. It was called Rushville after old man
Rush who lived nearby, though we generally referred
to this stop as merely, "The Station." The Station
Clarkson's Operation And Riddle's Eggs 117
building served as a general store, ticket office, post
office, freight depot, and general loafing place for the
whole neighborhood. It was officially in charge of
Mr. Hallrand, he of the bushy red beard and rotund
stomach. I often went with my father to the station,
and on one of my recent visits while Mr. Hallrand was
weighing out my father's sugar and coffee I discovered
a brightly bound little picture book lying on the counter.
Surreptitiously I took a peep inside. It disclosed
marvelous pictures of boys and girls, of queens and
kings, of animals and birds, of flowers and fields. It
was a peep into wonderland, and my eyes bulged with
excitement and my heart beat a lively tattoo as I
imagined myself the owner of such a treasure. I spoke
to no one about my discovery; it was too sacred for the
profanation of words. Then, too, I feared ridicule;
I feared if I openly expressed a desire for it someone
would laugh at me. But in my inmost heart I ardently
desired that book ; above all else I coveted it. I thought
of it all the way home, as I rode behind father on old
Fanny's fat butter back — old Fan on whose ample back
my father used to set me when I could scarcely toddle
about. Old Fan, herself, on these occasions in coming
home from work in the field seemed to realize her
responsibility, and though anxious to reach the stable
and feed after a hard day's Avork, she always took ample
time to carefully pick her way over uneven ground
lest she should jar me off.
By the time we reached home I had determined to
obtain that book by foul means or fair. I felt that
118 The Swamps
until I had that treasure safely within my keeping, life
would scarcely be worth living. For days I pondered
ways and means of obtaining possession of it. Then
one day my opportunity came though brought about,
as I afterward believed, by the Evil One, himself.
It was one of those seductive summer days when
conscience, especially in the very young, is easily lulled
to sleep. I was making my way through the tall grass
back of the barn looking for nothing in particular,
but just following the urge within me for some sort of
adventure, when lo ! and behold, old Biddie fluttered
out from the thick grass from off her well concealed
nest. I parted the heavy herbage and stooped down
over thirteen pure white eggs. Now Biddie had long
since proved the despair of my mother. She was a
willful creature and stubbornly refused to submit to
domesticity. She lived before her time. She was a
modernist, and made self-expression her rule of action.
She scorned the homemade nests my mother prepared
for her and laid her eggs in the great open spaces far
flung and usually undiscovered. Because of this habit
Biddie proved an unprofitable member of the flock, and
my mother had already marked her for the pot.
Now I knew Biddie's reputation. I knew my
mother ignored her in any egg-production consideration.
These eggs would never be missed; thirteen of them —
an unlucky number — for in each egg there lurked an
embryo tempter. And these little tempters whispered
seductively in my ears, "See what your good fairy has
brought you, the price of that picture book at Mr.
Clakkson's Operation And Biddies Eggs 119
Hallraiid's store." Then my drowsy conscience mildly
remonstrated, "But they are not mine; they belong to
my mother — to buy clothes and groceries for me?"
And then all thirteen little tempters said in unison and
in a louder and more persuasive voice, "But your
mother has long since failed to count on getting any
eggs from Biddie, she will not miss them; your mother
and Biddie are not friendly, she would scarcely accept
her eggs even if she found them." Then I said, "But
how can I get them to the store?" "As good as done,"
said the tempters, "Old Fan is in the stable just wearing
her heart out for want of exercise; and there is a little
basket in the barn, too; it is early; take what the gods
provide — the basket, Fanny and bring back the book —
all in time for supper."
In another moment I had placed the stolen eggs in
the basket and was soon galloping away for the store
all unobserved by my mother.
"Heigh ho!" exclaimed Mr. Ilallrand as he saw
Fan and me approaching. "What brings you two
from the Swamp; is anything wrong?"
I slid off old Fan to the wooden platform that had
been constructed alongside the railroad. For a moment
I was at a loss to explain my presence. 1 had not
thought of this meeting with Mr. Hallraiid and the
interest my visit, alone, to the store might arouse. I
had stolen the eggs and now I proceeded to speed my
downward course to perdition by smashing another
commandment; I lied to him. I told liiin my mother
sent me for the book. In the meantime, I had made my
120 The Swamps
way to the store and entered. I was soon beside the
counter and lovingly fondling the coveted book. I
elaborated on my latest crime, the lie. I told Mr.
Hallrand my mother was teaching me to read and had
sent these eggs to pay for the book. I was lying now
glibly; I would have violated the entire decalogue
rather than lose the prized possession now that it was
actually within my grasp. I must have told a plausible
story, for Mr. Hallrand without further question
proceeded to count the eggs while I unbuttoned my
shirt waist and caressingly placed my treasure near my
heart. Eggs were then ten cents a dozen, just the price
of the book. There were thirteen eggs. What was
to be done with the fraction of a cent still due me?
"How much is that candy a stick — the striped candy
in the glass jar behind you?"
It was a cent a stick and Mr. Hallrand balanced
my account by giving me about three-fourths of a stick.
Mr. Hallrand helped me to climb on old Fanny,
and we were soon galloping along the dusty road on our
return journey home.
And now I began to realize the enormity of my
crime. The book was mine, but what of my soul ? We
had been taught an austere religion that early sank deep
into our natures. The religion was as hard and as
inexorable as were our lives. It was an unforgiving
religion. Even thus early in my life I conceived in
a way the terrors of hell, of hellfire and brimstoTie, and
I believed this eternal and awful punishment would
Clarkson's Operatiox x\nd Biddie's Egos 121
surely be visited upon the unrepentant sinner. I began
to grow more and more terrified as I drew near liome.
It was dusk when old Fan brought me up at the
barnyard gate. My mother had done the "chores" for
father had gone to the mill and we did not expect his
return till after dark. My mother was naturally
anxious, especially as Tip, the faithful collie, was home.
When Tip was with me she was not especially concerned,
for Tip was ever zealous of my care. So I found her
waiting for me, waiting to pass awful judgment on my
sin. But instead of utterly destroying me, she lifted me
tenderly from old Fan's fat back. I was sore and tired
from the long ride — aching in every muscle — aching at
heart — sick at soul, conscious of my terrible sin.
"Sheridan, child, where have you been?" in the
gentlest tones ; not wrathful, not minatory, but in a voice
that might have been wafted from the angels. It was
like balm to my lacerated heart. I seemed to collapse
utterly under the influence of this unexpected gentleness.
Then the floodgates were opened. In heart-
breaking sobs I told the story of my appalling sin.
Old Fan now bridle-free meandered away to the nearby
pasture. The chickens gossiped and quarreled them-
selves to sleep, the fireflies arose above the dew-moistoned
grass in a swaying, starry web, and the frogs in the
pond back of the orchard croaked not unmusically
their evensong. Still I lay sobbing in my mother's
arms as she sat in the rocking chair beside the door
and soothed me, reassured me. Finally I fell asleep
122 The Swamps
to awaken the next morning with my sin somehow
washed away. It was my first great sin; and in the
innocence of childhood, I vowed and alas ! believed,
it would he my last.
The Big Ditch
The first vehicular road constructed in tlie Swamps
was of the corduroy type. It led from the southern
hills past my father's farm to the settled section at the
north. These roads bore little likeness to the concrete
highways of the present time. But the marshy Swamps
would admit of no other kind. Vehicles, at certain
seasons, would become hopelessly mired in roads built
of unsupported muck. It became necessary to build
corduroy roads, as objectionable as they were, in order
to make it possible for wagons to enter the Swamps.
Timber, the material used in building corduroy
roads, was abundant and conveniently at hand. First,
trees of suitable size were felled and cut into lengths
corresponding to the width of the road. These were
split in twain and then, with the round side down, firmly
imbedded in the muck. The edges of these logs, hewn
to a fairly straight line, were placed together, thus
forming a comparatively flat surface over which the
horses drew the vehicles.
But even when completed the road was far from
ideal. It was rattle and chuck all the way; for some
of the logs would gradually sag, one deeper than
another, till the wheels of the vehicle would first drop
down into a hole to be hoisted the next instant over a
log that had remained a foot above its fellows. Then,
too, the logs would sometimes separate till a horse's foot
124 The Swamps
could pass between them. This resulted in great danger
of breaking the animal's leg, a misfortune that
happened more than once to horses of these early times.
Furthermore, the roads required constant attention ; the
spaces had to be closed up; the logs required constant
tamping to keep them approximately level, and
occasionally they had to be replaced with new ones.
But with the advent of ample drainage "dirt" roads
took the place of the old corduroy makeshifts. This
was a decided step forward, though these roads were not
an unmixed blessing, for grade them as carefully as we
could, there came times after long rains, or during the
"spewing" periods of winter when they became well nigh
Then came pikes. These were an expensive type of
road to build; for rock, the foundation material, was
not to be found in the Swamps, and had to be drawn
from the hills several miles away. Today the old pike
lies buried under tons of concrete over which the motor
tourist, all oblivious of the ghosts of pioneer days that
on certain nights still stalk abroad, speeds on through
fields of waving grain, past pretentious farmsteads to
his appointed destination.
But the romance and adventure of my childhood
days lay not so much along these roads as it did in the
Big Ditch which I regarded as the most wonderful
achievement of man's endeavor. It proved a never
failing challenge to my childish imagination, and
always became a dominant factor in my most spectacular
flights of fancy. Of this fascinating channel I never
The Big Ditch 125
tired and during that age when we are too young to be
useful but old enough to become a bother around the
house, my mother solved the problem of my riddance on
all but rainy days by sending me to explore the Big
Ditch that ran but a few hundred yards back of our
home. Here with Tip, as my bodyguard, she felt I
would be safe from harm, and happy. Moreover, she
could reckon on my being out of her way for the entire
morning or afternoon.
Even as young as I was I often wondered about the
Big Ditch ; whence it came and whither it flowed ; what
sights and scenes it witnessed in its mysterious course;
what manner of vegetation grew on its banks in that
faraway country where it reached the sea ; what kind of
men and women and children and birds and beasts
surrounded its headwaters or knew its widened expanse
as it drifted to the south.
ISiow the Big Ditch, as later years disclosed, followed
a very tame course to the river where without any ado
it was soon swallowed up by the larger stream; but at
that time the Big Ditch was the embodiment of all that
was strange, romantic, and mystic.
Except in flood time the Big Ditch was a grass
gro^vn canyon with the bottom clay-baked and cracked
by the summer sun into various sharply defined but
irregular blocks of hardened silt. Here between sides
overgrown with coarse herbage I would walk and walk,
and wonder and wonder. It was a tremendous adven-
ture, for the clayey sides o'er-topped my head and it
was little short of a trip into the wilds of darkest Africa
126 The Swamps
as I wandered with nerves aquiver over the dry bottom
of the Big Ditch. There were garter snakes to be
encountered and innumerable field mice to be
dispatched, not to mention an occasional muskrat who
burrowed forth from a sluggish pool that had withstood
the drying rays of the summer sun and that still
afforded comfort to the lonely rodent against the coming
autumn rains. There were clumps of wild roses, too,
depending from the bank above, that draped, in places,
the wounds of the spring wash now sun parched and
ugly in its midsummer desiccation.
But best of all there was the pool of comparatively
clear water just where the Big Ditch passed under the
water gate that divided our farm from that owned by
Eli Charleston. Here the swirl of the current in flood
time had burrowed out a deep hole that held water in
some amount all through the summer drought. This
water hole was always an outstanding objective in my
adventures through the Big Ditch; for just as like as
not I would find in this fascinating pool a dozen, more
or less, of real fish — tiny minnows to be sure — that had
found their way from some source into the Big Ditch.
As the water receded these minnows gravitated, as is
their nature, to the isolated puddles that, as the summer
advanced, mostly dried up, which worked a great hard-
ship to the minnows. The pool under the Watergate,
however, held; only once, the summer of the great
drought, did the unfortunate minnows wiggle them-
selves first through thin mud and then thicker till one
The Big Ditch 127
day I found their stiff little bodies wrapped in the dry
but majestic cerements of death.
But aside from this tragic summer I always found
sufficient water in this particular hole to provide a
fairly roomy aquarium for the minnows. And what
thrills I experienced when craning my neck under the
water gate I gazed into the depths of the pool — deep,
it seemed to me, though in reality very shallow — and
discovered swimming gaily about the little pocket of
water real live fish ! Indeed, I knew but little about
fish in that inland country of prairie-like levelness
where the Big Ditch was the only stream, as paltry as
it was, within my ken. Therefore, these few undersized
minnows were unduly exaggerated and glorified in my
childish imagination. For hours at a time I would lie
on the hard, uneven surface of the bottom of the Big
Ditch and as I watched, I dreamed wonderful dreams
about these marvelous minnows — no longer minnows
in my now excited brain — but whales, porpoises, sword
fish and sharks with which I battled valiantly though
not always triumphantly; for I lost many a leg and
scores of fingers and toes in these piscatorial encounters.
Ships, too, I sailed over this pool now metamorphosed
into a tempestuous sea — pirate ships, ships of the line,
battleships and cruisers, and sailing boats, lifeboats
and all manner of craft which I in turn manned and
commanded, singly and in fleet formation, but always
bent on adventure and always with a spectacular
128 The Swamps
The pool under the water gate was ever a source
of childish imagery and even in those tender years I
was always the hero or the victim; I was the central
figure of every adventure on land — the bottom of the
ditch — or on sea — the pool under the water gate.
Beyond the water gate pool the Big Ditch began to
leave civilization and I never had the courage or time,
for the sinking sun generally found me no farther in
my explorations than the line fence, to proceed much
farther towards the Big Woods, out of which, I was told
by my mother, the Big Ditch flowed. Only once did I
make bold to crawl under the water gate and proceed
upstream along the Big Ditch. N'ow the Big Ditch,
that section occupied in passing through the lower part
of my father's farm, was familiar ground to me. It
was the most outstanding variation in the flat monotony
of the whole farm ; it stimulated dreams and lent itself
to adventure, and I was almost a daily visitor in the
grasshopper days of summer to its winding course. But
beyond — ah, that was strange and thrilling territory!
On the occasion of my temerity of which I speak I took
Tip along with me. Tip generally accompanied me in
my excursions along the Big Ditch, for here he found
surcease from fighting his fleas in tormenting the bigger
game of mice, and on occasions, an over-confident
muskrat. He even evinced some interest in the
minnows, sometimes dipping his paw in the pool in an
attempt to corral the elusive fish — a practice I generally
discouraged, for he stirred up the muddy water and
with it my dreams became accordingly turbulent. So
The Big Ditch 120
I directed his attention to mice tunnels in which he
usually took more delight and left me to the roily sea.
I remember the day of our tragic adventure as of
yesterday. It was late in August. I had crawled
under the water gate, and Tip was at my heels. A
rabbit scurried from among the bushes that now lined
the bank, for the Big Ditch after leaving our farm
debouched alongside a thicket, and Tip rushed into the
brush in pursuit of his game. Stirred by the excitement
of the chase I climbed up the side of the ditch and
followed. It was about the middle of the afternoon,
biit I took no heed of the time; the chase was too
absorbing. "Yap, yap, yippy yap," went Tip through
the brush, and I strained every muscle in my endeavor
to keep up with him. But try as I would his yaps grew
gradually fainter. Still I followed in the direction of
the last sound. Then I could hear no more and I
stopped and looked about me. For the first time since
leaving the Big Ditch I took stock of my surroundings.
The coppice had given way to a forest, and stately oaks
now surrounded me. We had evidently followed the
course of the stream, for I seemed to recognize the Big
Woods, that mysterious and extensive forest that gave
birth to the Big Ditch. "I'll find the Big Ditch," I told
myself confidently; and then I'll follow down stream
and so to my father's farm. I little doubted my ability
to find readily the Big Ditch, and then I proceeded
leisurely in the direction, as I took it, of its location.
By the position of the shadows, I reckoned the sun was
still well above the horizon which left me plenty of time
130 The Swamps
to find the Big Ditch and get out of the Big Woods
before darkness fell.
But as I proceeded farther and farther I saw no
signs of the Big Ditch. Then, too, I presently made
the disconcerting discovery that the sun was lower down
the horizon than at first I thought, for now the shadows
beneath the dense foliage were apparently growing
darker. So I pressed on a bit hurriedly, and to be
perfectly frank, with an uncomfortable feeling about
my heart that closely resembled fear — a feeling that
soon was on the borderland of the realm of terror.
Ah! at last the Big Ditch! My fears abated. I
even whistled as I examined the sprawling channel that
to my mind was the source of the Big Ditch, a channel
not directed by the hand of man, but a wild channel
that followed the course of least resistance through the
Big Woods; but to my boyish intelligence, it surely
would lead me to the now much coveted and more con-
ventionalized course of the Big Ditch of the farm lands.
So I began following this much bifurcated, grass-
hummocked and noAV dry channel that I hoped would
soon lead me to the orderly sides and smoother bottom
of the way home. N'ow at this early age I was not so
well versed in the ways of nature as I became later,
else I would not have made the mistake I did ; for had
I examined carefully the inclination of the battered-
down grass and drift of the silt in the bottom of the
water course I could have determined with reasonable
certainty which way the water in the flood season had
flowed. Instead of which I started in the direction that
The Big Ditch 131
seemed to me to be down stream, but wbich unbappily
proved to be just the opposite. TvTow I knew from the
time I spent in reaching the point where I first realized
I was in the Big Woods that I could not be far into the
timberland, and with this in mind I expected
momentarily to find myself again in the open. My
first intimation that I was doomed to disappointment
was a growing conviction that the channel I was
following was becoming smaller and more ill defined.
This was at first disconcerting, for I now suspected I
was traveling upstream and was consequently going
deeper and deeper into the now fast darkling woods.
With a final realization that I was lost, lost in the
great mysterious woods with prowling wolves and wild
dogs, and wilder cats, not to mention panthers and
bears, I was suddenly seized with a numbing terror.
Of course, I know now that since early days no such
ferocious animals, with the possible exception of a few
wild cats, inhabited the Big Woods; but it was
considered prudent by our elders to give wide credence
to these tales in order to keep the younger children from
essaying this mysterious realm with the possibility of
becoming lost — an experience that fell to the lot of
others besides myself. That I was now lost admitted
of no doubt. True, I doubled on my course and
stumbled down stream as fast as my tired legs could
carry me, but darkness now fell, it seemed to me, with
unusual swiftness, and I could no longer make out the
course of the stream. But blindly I stumbled on, any-
where, any way, for now I was terrified to the verge of
132 The Swamps
frenzy. I fell over rotten logs; I plunged into briar
bushes; I scratched my hands and face; and my bare
feet, though hardened and innocent of boots from early
spring, began to smart from nettles and snags. I called
for Tip but without result. Could I curl up against
Tip's shaggy side, I felt I could with some degree of
comfort wait for the morning light. But this was
denied, the companionship of my pal and my protector.
Tip's voice had long since died away far in the depth of
the forest. Then I thought of my mother and how she
would worry, of the warm supper awaiting me, and
the snug trundle-bed. When I thought of the wolves
and the wild dogs, my knees trembled; my feet refused
to move. Frightened at the sound of my own voice,
I ceased to call for Tip. Burning eyes seemed to be
peering at me through the dense gloom. Sepulchral
voices seemed to surround me; mysterious and ominous
sounds fell from the lofty branches of the hoary oaks.
I moved with great effort a few steps at a time and
then listened. Ghosts were abroad, goblins, gnomes
and giants. I started at every creaking branch,
at every sound of the night insects. My straining ears
were assailed with dreadful noises, blood curdling and
terrible. And then in my effort to move I stumbled
and fell, fell into a soft bed of moss. A great oak
spread out its roots about me. I felt safer in the
embrace of this giant monarch of the forest, and I
remained under its protection where I fell. For awhile
I peered about me into the Cimmerian darkness. The
gloom oppressed me, and my eyes grew heavy with the
The Big Ditch 133
blackness. A dense gloom seemed to envelope my senses.
Fairies, black wild boars and red, flaming bulls peopled
my brain in a sort of unearthly starry web that was fast
enveloping me ***** *^
I awoke with a great start. One of the demons of
my terrified sleep was upon me. He was licking my
face and his great yellow eyes were piercing me to the
heart. I could not scream, for the incessant din of this
monster stunned my ears and caused my tongue to
cleave to the roof of my mouth. And then as a ray
from the rising sun filtered in to me through the dense
oak boughs the monster over me began to shrink to the
proportions, the familiar proportions, of a dog, of Tip
who had bathed me with saliva and who now was wild
with joy as he kept up his incessant barking. I
attempted to hug him, to clasp him to my bounding
heart, but Tip was all aquiver and excited beyond
measure. "Hark, Tip, was that a hello? Yes, and
now another and nearer." And Tip answered every
hello with a resounding yap.
That morning there was joy in all the countryside,
and my mother red-eyed and weeping bore me trium-
phantly to the waiting wagon. All night long they had
searched the Big Woods — Jack, Dink and other near
neighbors. The women folks waited with my mother
by the edge of the forest. Flares were lighted, and
had it not been for the danger of setting fire to the
timberland, bonfires would have been built. As it was
they were started only in the road and safe away from
the dry grass.
134 The Swamps
The stragglers from the searching party at length
emerged from the forest, and foot sore, stiff and
contented I was jolted along the rough country road
past the home of Eli Charleston while Tip bounded
and barked the whole length of the journey. My mother
lost no time in preparing us all a warm breakfast, and
then she placed me on the sofa in the sitting-room and
covered me up with the new log-cabin quilt where I
slept away in peace and quiet the terrors of the night.
McKiM, The Bandit
My memory plays me many a curious prank. Wliy
is it that I recall no very definite picture of my brother,
Clarkson, with whom I must have daily played, and
whose age was scarcely three years less than my own,
while I remember as of yesterday, the visit to the
Swamps of McKim, the bandit? Psychologists tell us
nothing is ever forgotten, that the record of every
conscious moment is there, covered up, maybe, or tucked
away in some out-of-the-way corner of the mind to be
revealed unexpectedly sometimes under the proper
stimulus which may take the form of a long-forgotten
odor, a familiar word or phrase, or a few notes of an
oldtime tune. My brother's doings fell into the prosaic
record of the day, but the picture of McKim stands out
in bold type still clearly legible above the fog and mists
of the intervening years.
How much of the story of McKim I actually
remember and how much is hearsay 1 cannot at this
distance positively state. But that I do clearly recall
certain incidents connected with that period of excite-
ment in the Swamps scarcely admits of a doubt. For
example I remember how I used to look at Long Tom
that was now always kept primed and loaded and placed
in a convenient position near the door; and the extra
precautions my father took in doubly barring the doors
of the stable and other outhouses; the discomfort of my
136 The Swamps
mother and the other women of the neighborhood during
those months that McKim found asylum in the Swamps
and foraged from the farmers for a living. I also
remember the drastic curtailment of my own freedom in
roaming the woods and fields. My mother now would
scarcely permit me to be out of her sight, and both Tip
and myself were kept as a sort of bodyguard for
household services. The folks of the countryside kept
more to their cabins; the men arranged their work so
they could be nearer their families, and after dark the
roads were almost deserted.
McKim made his appearance in the neighborhood
with dramatic suddenness. Mr. Hallrand was the first
man to see him. The morning train, after leaving the
station, had stopped at the water tank a few hundred
feet above to take on the customary supply of water.
As usual it was a mixed train, on this occasion consisting
of one combination baggage and coach, two flat cars and
a box car. The arrangement on this particular
occasion had the box car in the rear. While the train
was still standing at the water tank Mr. Hallrand
walked to the upper end of the platform to pick up the
mail bag. This brought him opposite the rear end of
the train, and alongside the box car. Just as he stooped
to pick up the bag he heard the grating of the door
of the box car as it was pushed along the iron grooves
that held it in place. As he looked up, a small wiry,
sandy-haired man standing in the doorway of the car
met his gaze. At once his western dress attracted Mr.
Hallrand's attention. The butts of two pistols projected
McKiM, The Baxdit 137
from tlie man's hip pockets. The stranger noticed Mr.
Hallrand's look of surprise. He was the first to speak.
"Where does this train go to?" he asked.
Mr. Hallrand told him it went to Hillton, the end
of the line. Mr. Hallrand was still surprised. He was
ill at ease in the presence of the apparition. Was he
cowboy or bandit? Surely he hailed from no section
with which Mr. Hallrand was familiar. There was a
moment of silence.
"Hillton, the end of the line?" the stranger presently
"Yes, Hillton, the end of the line," Mr. Hallrand
Then after another pause the passenger queried,
"How's the country round here — pretty well settled?"
"Yes, to the south," Mr. Hallrand answered, "but
not in this direction," waving his hand to the north,
"in the direction of the Swamps."
The Westerner became at once all attention. "The
Swamps?" he replied, "how far away?"
"Only a few miles," Mr. Hallrand replied. Then
"Oh, nothing," replied the stranger in a noncom-
mittal manner. Then he asked, "Timbered?"
"Yes," said Mr. Hallrand, "parts of it. There's a
Big Woods about three miles square that hasn't yet
been nicked by an axe." Then Mr. Hallrand asked,
"Interested in lumber?"
"1^0, not exactly, just timber" the newcomer replied.
Then still deep in thought he added, "Can a feller
138 The Swamps
winter in the Big Woods, any place he can get some-
thing to eat ?"
"Farmers live all around the border — 'spose they
might stake you to grub, that is, if youVe got the
price," Mr. Hallrand answered.
"I'm not exactly broke," the westerner replied.
Then placing his hands on the pistol butts he added
with a knowing smile, "And I got a couple of good
friends here, too."
This ended the conversation. The spout of the
water tank was lifted, the engine gave a toot, the box car
lurched forward and the picturesque passenger sprang
to the ground. With a quick, nervous stride he struck
out along the road to the north.
Mr. Hallrand watched him disappear around the
bend in the road. Then he wrinkled his brow and
stroked his bushy beard. "I don't like the looks of
that man," he mumbled to himself. "If he ain't a
bandit them pictures in the paper are off." Slowly he
moved down the platform dragging the mail bag after
Mr. Hallrand had a brother in the West, in the
section of the West where McKim had been operating.
Occasionally this brother sent Mr. Hallrand a copy of
the Weekly I^ews ; especially if it contained an account
of McKim's activities. In this very mail bag he was
dragging to the post office, formed by partitioning off
one corner of the store, was a newspaper addressed to
the postmaster. After hurriedly distributing the
handful of mail and sticking each piece in its owner's
McKiM, The Baxdit 139
box, Mr. Hallrand tore off the wrapper of the paper
addressed to him. It was from his brother out West
and was the usual four-page western weekly. From
the front page the half-smiling, calculating face of the
box car passenger looked up at him. There was no
doubt about the arrival; it was McKim. The caption
carried the information that the bandit was on his way
East hotly pursued by a sheriff's posse.
About seven o'clock the nightly concourse of loafers
assembled. The news had spread like wildfire. Dan
Hunt had met McKim on the road and had talked with
him. This was strange and was the object of comment.
Why had Dan talked with the bandit? Was there
something back of this meeting ? Had it been arranged
previously between them ? After all no one knew much
about Dan Hunt. He always seemed out of his element
with the trash of the Swamps. Xow it appeared he
was on familiar terms with this bandit. Was it a mere
coincidence? Or had they known each other before.
These were questions excitedly discussed by the loafers.
Mr. Hallrand showed them the paper. Those who
could read conned the account breathlessly. There was
every shade of opinion expressed. Some predicted that
a killing was imminent. Life had suddenly become
cheap in the Swamps.
Then the crowd mysteriously melted away — even
before it was dark. Everyone seemed bent on making
his cabin early. All save Dan Hunt, silent Dan the
inscrutable, Dan the shindig fiddler, Dan the lone
140 The Swamps
liunter and recluse. Dan said little but remained at
the store as usual till well after dark.
Everybody in the Swamps now knew of McKim.
There was little sleep that night. For that reason
everybody within range knew there was a light in Dan
Hunt's cabin all night. And Dan had a visitor. At
least old Doctor B. D. said when he passed the cabin
about three in the morning coming home from a baby
case he saw two men stealthily pass out of the door.
The next day the morning train that makes
connection in the city with the night express from the
West stopped as usual at Rushville, and from this train
four men alighted. This in itself was nothing out of
the ordinary. Hog dealers, hay merchants, book agents
and lightning rod peddlers often alighted from this
train after working the territory below. But these four
men were different. To begin with they were big
brawny sun-tanned men. Their clothes stamped them
as plainsmen. Their hats were broad brimmed and
modelled after the sombrero pattern. They all showed
a bulging imprint on their hips, and the shape of the
object outlined was strangely like that of a revolver.
One man accidentally brushed the lapel of his coat
aside, and a big nickel star was pinned to his breast.
There was no doubt now as to their identity and
mission. They were sheriffs from the West in search
Dan Hunt was early at the station. This was
unusual. Dan seldom met the morning train. He was
usually in the woods at this time with his rifle. But
McKiM, The Bandit 141
Dan remained only a moment. After securing a good
look at the strangers he made off — not in the direction
of his cabin but down the railroad. Mr. Hallrand
noted this and wondered why? This was a roundabout
way of reaching the Big Woods.
The strangers had much talk with Mr. Hallrand.
The spokesman of the posse asked him many questions
about the blind baggage passenger of the day before.
He inquired about the lay of the land roundabout the
Swamps and the surrounding territory. Mr. Hallrand
told him all he knew. After a moment Mr. Hallrand
asked, "Do you suspect the man was McKim, the
"Yes," said the sheriff, "there isn't a doubt about
it. We traced him in the city to the train due here
yesterday afternoon, but after it was too late to follow
him. This was the first train we could get out of the
city." Then the sheriff made the disconcerting state-
ment that McKim had become particularly vicious
recently and killings to his credit had mounted rapidly.
"That's why we are determined to get him." But
seeing the look of dismay that came to Mr. Hallrand's
face he added by way of comfort — "But McKim never
kills just for the killing's sake." Then after a pause,
"ISTo, I don't think he will harm any of you here, that
is, if you don't cross him." Then the sheriffs started
for the Swamps.
After reaching the low-lying land of the Swamps
the four separated and in fanshape formation made
in the direction of the Big Woods. The spokesman,
142 The Swamps
who seemed to be in command of the posse, took the
road that led past our house. My father had just come
in from his work for the noondaj^ meal when the
sheriff headed in our direction reached our front gate.
The two at once engaged in conversation. They talked
long and earnestly under the pair of bur oaks that
stood in front of the house. And then, it being a
hard and fast custom in those days to always invite
the wayfarer who chanced to be present at meal time
to take pot luck with the family, they both came in
for dinner. It was a tremendously impressive occasion
to me. I remember this incident very distinctly. I
could scarcely swallow my food so absorbed was I with
the visitor. He was tall, tanned and muscular. He
ate our coarse food ravenously, and complimented my
mother — and not without reason — on her culinary
But his general remarks were noncommittal, though
I hung with rapt attention on his every commonplace
observation. After dinner the sheriff thanked us for
our hospitality, then taking his sombrero, he started
down the lane in the direction of the Big Woods. The
whole neighborhood was keyed up to the highest pitch.
Early in the afternoon the sheriffs held a conference
at an appointed place on the edge of the Big Woods,
after which they disappeared into the forest. I was
kept at the house all day. My father changed his
work to a field just back of the orchard. The afternoon
waned, l^o news of the bandit. Darkness fell and
still the Big Woods enveloped pursuers and pursued in
McKiM, The Baxdit 143
mysterious silence. We scarcely slept ; it was the
second night of sleeplessness and anxiety. We could
see Dan Hunt's window from our house, it was dark
all night. Dan had not been seen since the sheriffs
arrived. This was strange, especially when the next
morning all four officers emerged from the woods and
made for the station. And without McKim.
There was an abandoned cabin in the heart of the
Big Woods — a trappers' cabin that had not been
occupied for years. To this cabin the sheriffs traced
McKim. It was dark when they reached it, and not
washing to close in on it at night they surrounded it
and waited till daylight. And then they found it
With disappointment written large in their weary
faces they went aboard the down train and left us,
left us with McKim. Just why the western sheriffs
abandoned their pursuit so abruptly we never knew.
They made no comment — just silently boarded the
train that connected with the western express. Perhaps
they were content to have him out of their territory,
or did not relish the idea of hunting their man in this
section of timbered marsh land with the character of
which they were not familiar, and where the odds
would naturally be with the criminal.
However this may have been, all further pursuit of
McKim ended for the winter with the departure of the
For weeks during that fall and winter the whole
communitv was in a state of mild terror.
144 The Swamps
^ow the Crowmans and the Hunts — the lazy, worth-
less families of the Swamps — were not vicious; we
never feared them, only held them in utter contempt.
Murder was unknown in the Swamps. It had occurred
on one or two occasions in the outlying Hill sections
where society had reached a higher state of civiliza-
tion and culture; but so far, the more undesirable
elements of the Swamps were just plain, shiftless,
But here now in our midst was a real Western
desperado with a record of many murders to his credit,
who was armed with modern weapons and who was
reputed to be a deadly shot. That he was actually
among us admitted of no doubt, and that such a
character existed and operated extensively in those
western hold-up days was a matter of record. McKim's
reputation had not escaped any of us, and now whether
we wished it or not he was our guest, a guest though
uninvited that promised to remain with us all winter.
But as the weeks passed some of the initial terror
wore off. During the six months he was with us one
might almost truthfully say he became a familiar figure
in the Swamps, for he would often approach the nervous
inhabitants and talk with them about various things —
the weather, the crops and whatever was of general
interest. Of course, McKim had to live and he was
not entirely without funds. He bought when it suited
his convenience, but too frequently he foraged. The
abandoned cabin in the depth of the Big Woods served
as his habitation. I never saw McKim, at least that
McKiM, The Bandit 145
I remember. But my father did on several occasions.
He would see him stalking stealthily through the forest
or furtively skirting the margins of the fields. One
day McKim approached my father where he was
chopping in the fringe of the forest and conversed with
him for over an hour. My father was so excited when
he came from work that night that he could scarcely eat
his supper. "What did he say?" we all asked. "Lots
of things," father replied vaguely. Then we pressed
him for particulars, but my father seemed at a loss to
know where to begin.
But at length we learned that McKim had proved
a rather pleasant visitor and my father had been greatly
impressed by him. As I remember the account of the
conversation McKim had discussed the various phases
of the West, its needs and possibilities and interspersed
his conversation with many an entertaining anecdote.
In short, my father had had a very pleasant afternoon
with the bandit and ever since that visit my father, at
least, seemed to have lost his fear of McKim.
McKim was always alert and generally on the move.
1^0 one ever approached his cabin either night or day —
no one save Dan Hunt. Dan Hunt was the only
resident of the Swamps that fraternized with McKim.
Dan went on his hunting excursions into the Big Woods
as usual. Indeed it was reported that Dan even took
his fiddle with him at times to the lone bandit's cabin
and fiddled for him far into the night.
It was Dan who afterward gave us the best account
of the bandit's prowess -with pistols, averrinj; that he,
146 The Swamps
himself, saw McKim bring down from the top of a tall
oak a big wild turkey gobbler with an unerring shot.
Dan also brought us wonderful tales of McKim's blood
curdling exploits in the West. How much of Dan's
account of McKim was true and how much was pure
fiction we could not accurately determine, but that Dan
knew him intimately and associated and visited with
him seemed altogether probable. Dan, the silent fiddler,
was a character with a decided personality, and I have
always believed he came to know McKim well; may
have known him in other days. Dan was always un-
fathomable and it was just like him to take to this
desperado, though Dan, himself, had nothing of the
daredevil about him. I can imagine these two strange
characters opposite in many ways within that abandoned
cabin within the deep forest finding much together in
What was to be the outcome of McKim's presence
among us was a question on every lip. He was
undesirable, for he kept us all on the anxious seat, and,
besides he had to live; he did live and largely at the
expense of the farmers round about. N"or did he pay
for all that he ate. Chickens and pigs had mysteriously
disappeared, though when he needed groceries he applied
in person to some convenient cabin and always paid in
full for what he demanded from the farmer's wife.
Time wore on, and in a way we became accustomed
to the bandit's presence among us. But not entirely.
True, our vigilance relaxed to some extent, but we were
still conscious that the desperado was still in our midst.
McKiM, The Baxdit 147
I was not allowed my accustomed freedom, and both
Tip and I felt it sorely, for with the early winter Tip
grew restive under the urge of the chase. I was too
young to be entrusted with a gun, though I could slioot
fairly well when my father in his presence allowed me
a try with Long Tom. But Tip could run like the
wind, and on more than one weaponless hunt with him
we returned home with Tip bounding by my side while
I proudly bore across my shoulder a nice fat rabbit that
Tip had captured in a straightway race. And now
rabbits were good — fat and juicy. I felt that something
must be done to rid the community of the menace and
restore to Tip and me our accustomed freedom. Just
as I was turning over in my mind methods that might
bring about the removal of our thralldom, a sheriif's
posse again appeared on the scene. But instead of the
quartet of the year before, another was added to the
posse and five officials now alighted from the train at
Rushville. Again they held a short conversation with
Mr. Hallrand after which they started once more for
As usual in a pioneer settlement the news spread
rapidly and all the countryside was soon on the qui
vive. We knew another raid was to be made on our
uninvited and unwelcome guest. The mild winter had
given way to an early spring and the farmers were
busy with their spring work. But work now ceased,
the air was charged with electricity, was dynamic and
an explosion was imminent. We all felt that something
148 The Swamps
tragic was going to happen this time and for the
moment we discussed nothing else.
Dan Hunt happened to be at the station when the
train pulled in. Dan never said much but was an
attentive listener. It afterward fell out that he did not
remain at the store long after the sheriffs began to
question Mr. Hallrand but had quietly slipped away
without being observed, ^o one knew in the excite-
ment when he went or where. But an hour or two
later I saw him creeping along the edge of the clearing,
the one beyond the Big Ditch that borders the Big
Woods. Tip and I had been allowed to go as far as
the Big Ditch and we were in that enchanted chaunel
then. The remains of the spring freshet in the form of
numerous puddles were still in the bottom of the ditch
and we were looking for minnows and mice, and if luck
favored us, a predatory snapping turtle. A moment
later my mother called us to the house. At first I
protested, for I had just discovered a pool containing
half a dozen live minnows. But when she stated the
reason for her action I at once forgot my quest, and
like the other members of the family, became greatly
excited. I told my mother about seeing Dan Hunt
passing into the Big Woods from the edge of our
clearing and she gave a knowing, "Ah, I see !" I asked
her what she meant and she replied with feigned
indifference, "Oh, nothing in particular."
We were thus engaged in conversation when one of
the sheriffs appeared around the corner of the house
and asked my mother the shortest way to the Big
McKiM, The Bandit 141»
Woods. He was the extra man that had been added
to the |K.sse of the fall before. He seemed serious and
did not linger long after my mother pointed the way out
to him. When last we saw him he was going down the
lane past Jack Kling's cabin in the direction of the
!My father came home from his work earlier than
usual that night and before dark had finished all his
chores. He barred the barn doors and saw that all
was secure for the night. Then we sat do^^Tl to supper
but no one seemed especially interested in the meal.
But when bedtime arrived I was ready for bed; not
even the possibility of tragedy in our neighborhood
proved a deterrent to the demands of a healthy boy's
body for sleep, and I slept soundly throughout the night.
Morning broke and all was quiet. Xo one had seen
either McKim or the sheriffs. About noon all five of
the officers met in the road about five hundred feet
above our house. They had traced McKim from the
woods and to this point in the road. Here one of the
Crowmans had seen him cross early in the morning.
He must now travel open country and in broad day-
light; to trail him was comparatively easy. All day
they followed him. He was making towards the
southeast corner of the county. Now this part of the
county borders on the foothills of a nearby mountain
range, and in these foothills there are five fairly large
caves. In later years we often visited these caves, for
here was still to be found in the mountain foothills
considerable large game — small bears among them.
150 The Swamps
McKim was traced to the caves, and acting upon
the reasonable conclusion that the bandit had taken
refuge in one of them the officers laid seige to the
caves, one man to each cavern. They also reasonably
concluded that to seek him in the cave would be suicidal.
There was nothing left save to starve him. In one of
these caves there was a flowing spring of clear, cold
water. This, of the five, they thought would be the
logical one for McKim to select. But they took no
chances on thd others; an offi.cer was placed on guard
at the mouth of each of them. It was a question of
starving out McKim.
It so happened that the big officer who dined with
us the fall before was selected to guard the cave
containing the spring of flomng water. This big,
genial fellow did not have long to wait for an
opportunity to try conclusions with the bandit. McKim
had arrived at the caves exhausted, he had no supplies,
he knew a fight with the sheriff was inevitable and
delay would only make him weaker.
On the night of the second day after his escape from
the Swamps McKim ventured from his hiding place,
from the cave that is known today as McKim's cave.
The hour selected was late when McKim thought to
catch the guard napping.
]N'ow McKim's cave took off from a ravine with
almost perpendicular sides. The mouth of the cave
was fifty feet above the bed of the stream. Only from
one side could the entrance to the cave be reached.
McKiM, The Bandit ir>l
This was over a narrow ledge that led around the scarp
of the hill on which two people could barely pass. On
this ledge the sheriff was stationed. He was awake and
alert when McKim made the sally. Each became
conscious of the other's presence on the ledge. So long
as McKim kept around the shoulder of the hill he was
out of range of the sheriff's pistol. To rush the officer
seemed foolhardy and the bandit hesitated. Even if he
grappled him before he could shoot, in all probability
they both would fall to the bed of the rocky ravine
below and to their death. It was a tense period. They
called to each other, they dared each other. Then the
sheriff fired a shot into the air. This was to call the
other officers to the scene. McKim knew this. There
was no time to spare. The bandit boldly rushed his
The larger man pushed or carried McKim back to
the broad mouth of the cave. Here McKim in some
manner succeeded in freeing himself from the sheriff's
grasp, when a pistol duel in the dark took place.
Another sheriff, the one stationed nearest to the scene
of combat, being aroused by the firing was now making
his way in the dark along the narrow ledge to the scene
of the duel. But as he rounded the shoulder of the
hill that opened into the mouth of the cave the firing
ceased; only groans could be heard. Our big brawny
sheriff lay mortally wounded. McKim was quite dead.
The wounded officer lived just long enough to give a
short account of the tragedy. He then sank into
152 The Swamps
unconsciousness. Before the sun was well over the hills
By broad daylight the other three sheriffs had made
their way along the ledge to the battleground. One of
McKim's six shooters was empty and lay by his side;
the other contained four unexploded shells. He must
have fired eight shots altogether ; four of them struck his
adversary between the hips and the head. Of the
sheriff's five empty shells three struck the bandit in the
chest. One pierced his heart. It was a bloody
encounter and the limestone of the floor of the cave
was said to show the location of the pools of blood for
A farm team was summoned and at Hillton two
coffins were obtained. When the four o'clock train
came down half the countryside was at Rushville. Two
wooden boxes could be seen through the open door of
the baggage car. Everybody craned their necks to get
a view of these impressive objects. Dan Hunt was
there, surly and silent. Some of the neighbors had
resented his intimacy with McKim; they had even
accused him of being in cahoots with him in some of his
local pilfering. Most thought he had aided McKim's
escape, not only from the Swamps to the caves, but
from the cabin the fall before. On this subject Dan
never committed himself.
As the years passed Dan Hunt withdrew more and
more within himself. He seldom fiddled now for the
weekly shindigs, though when passing at night I could
often hear the tremulous tones of his violin within his
McKiM, The Bandit 153
cabin. Even his hunting excursions became less
frequent. Dan was growing old. He lived alone and
we wondered if he had enough to eat. Once my father
stopped at the cabin and asked if he needed anything.
Dan rather scornfully resented the implied charity, and
my father never repeated the offer.
Then Dan played his last tune — his swan song. But
it wasn't a jig. I happened to be passing the cabin
that night, and I heard him playing. It was a strange
tune and I stopped in the road and listened. The sad,
weird tones held me spellbound. Was it an improvised
outpouring of Dan's proud, misunderstood soul, a
protest against an implacable fate? Then the motif
changed to a triumphal strain, a hallelujah, a victory
over life's injustices and wrongs. Once again the theme
shifted and angels now whispered their hope and
promise in strains as beautiful as the tints of a gorgeous
sunset. Gradually the music melted to a whisper and
then ceased altogether.
Still under the spell of the strange, weird music, I
moved along the road as in a dream. Xever had the
strings of Dan's old fiddle so moved me, so lifted me
into the realms of fantasy, and far into the night those
weird, compelling strains dominated my soul.
The next morning when they found him he was
still fondly clasping his beloved violin, his lifelong
companion whose last music had soothed and composed
his passing soul.
Dan's death made a deep impression on the entire
neighborhood, for with all his cold reserve and false
154 The Swamps
pride there was something innately fine about him.
Even his association with McKim was now almost
forgotten and certainly forgiven; especially when the
bandit's relationship to Dan was finally established.
This was brought about through a packet of trinkets
done up in oilskin and secreted between the logs of
Dan's cabin. Among them was a letter from McKim
in which he referred to his and Dan's mother. This
woman had been twice married. Her first husband was
a ECunt. Then she moved west and married a McKim.
Dan and the bandit were half brothers.
The HiUNTs And The Ceowmans
Society in the Swamps divided itself, as time wore
on, into two distinct groups. These two groups were as
widely separated in every sense as could well be
imagined. When my parents elected to live in the
Swamps, only a few hardy trappers were then to be
found there. Then as the reclamation of this wooded
marsh proceeded, the Swamps became a favorite
anchorage for all kinds of human driftwood brought in
from every point of the compass on the restless tide of
the times. We never knew exactly where these
stragglers came from. On some unoccupied land a
shack of the meanest and cheapest character, every now
and then, would spring up. And presently a curling
wisp of smoke arising from these miserable shelters
would announce their occupancy. Sometimes only a
lone wanderer would be discovered about the shack ;
sometimes more. Occasionally women of the most
slovenly type would be found mixed with the men ;
women of no morals and low mentality.
In time these fag ends of humanity fused into a sort
of stratum, the lowest stratum in the social scale. As
a rule they were not vicious ; they were too ignorant and
spineless for that. They led negative lives of utter
worthlessness. They stood in more or less awe of my
father and his class. This was fortunate for us, for
they greatly outnumbered us. At first they attempted
156 The Swamps
to ease their miserable existence by petty thieving; but
we promptly nipped this in the bud. They were very
cowardly and superstitious, and whenever we suspected
someone had been stealing our chickens, or other food
products we "hanted" them, that is, we caused various
mysterious happenings to occur in the immediate
vicinity of the suspect's cabin. This was always done
at night, and the occupants, once they heard these
spooky sounds outside, became terror stricken, and could
seldom be induced to venture beyond the threshold.
Jack Kling, my father and my two older brothers
always took a lively interest in devising ways and means
to terrify these chicken thieves. Of course, all wore
costumes of the most ghostly and startling appearance.
More than one of my mother's best sheets came back
seriously damaged when used as a uniform on these
excursions through thickets and brush. I was not old
enough myself to take part in these minatory expedi-
tions, but I remember them well. Draped in white
sheets and provided with noise-provoking and moan-
producing instruments the hooded company would issue
forth from our door and be swallowed up in the darkness
beyond — to me, a most frightful band bent upon the
business of the night. Thus fully panoplied they would
make the rounds of the nearby cabins. Sometimes
they would not return until midnight; and for days
afterward they would chuckle over the adventure.
Although promptly put to bed I seldom went to sleep
until they returned.
The Hints And The Ckowmans 157
Among other things, they always took with them a
bag of chicken remains, heads, feathers and feet, the
leavings of several kills for domestic use. These, I
noticed, my mother would store away before one of
these raids instead of giving them, as was her wont, to
old Tip. The reason for her unusual procedure now
became clear to me; they were to be used as significant
warnings to the suspects of the cabins. After having
terrified them from the nearby woods by flappings, cock
crowing and cackling these remains of slaughtered
chickens would be hung to the cabin door, scattered
along the path, or otherwise conspicuously placed where
they could easily be seen. Sometimes a member of the
"banting'' party would sneak up to the front door to
which some heavy object — a piece of metal or crockery
— Avould be fastened. Then, with a string attached and
held in his hand, he would hide behind some convenient
object, and while the other members of the party were
giving forth terrifying groans and moans alternating
with blood curdling shrieks, the operator of the "tic-
tac" would keep up an emphasizing tattoo on the door.
This never failed to spread terror among the inmates
of the cabin. On one occasion, related by my father,
when this gruelling had been going on for some time,
the entire household, three men and two women, rushed
screaming through the door and into the nearby thicket.
Here catching sight of some member of the white-
shrouded gang, one of the women fainted dead away.
My father had to carry her back to the cabin where
she was finallv revived. But no sooner had she again
158 The Swamps
caught sight of the "hant" than she broke away once
more, and this time, was soon swallowed up by the black
forest. This particular cabin was never again
occupied; for years it stood dreary and alone, and the
story of the ghostly visitants was current among the
trash of the Swamps for a long time afterwards.
What became of this particular company my father
never knew, but from that night forward we never
missed any more chickens ; petty thieving was effectually
But while this was abated, still this Swamp trash
was never an asset to the community. They were
shiftless, lazy, and morally lax. We often needed extra
help on the farm but threaten them as we would, we
could never make them work for us. Kow the old
trappers, when game disappeared before the woodsman's
axe, easily turned their energies to husbandry. Jack
Kling died in my father's employ, and Dink Cherry
became a valuable tenant on my brother's farm. But
these lazy loafers seldom could be induced to give us a
hand when help was badly needed. Indeed, they would
not work for themselves except just enough to keep soul
and body together, a margin that often proved too
narrow especially in winter when their provisions ran
out, and when we then either had to feed them or see
them starve. They were just plain "ornery." I don't
know the origin of this expressive word, but we always
applied it to these people — just "ornery trash." It
seemed to be the only word in our vocabulary that
adequately described them.
The Hunts And The Crowmans 159
With this "ornery" lot marriage was praftically
unknown, they simply "took up" with each other. The
children were, therefore, all illegitimate — "woods colts,"
we called them. From such forebearers they were quite
naturally miserable specimens of childhood; rickety,
undernourished, sometimes half-witted. I remember
one family — a family, of course, "without benefit of
clergy" — that were affected with a loathsome disease of
the head. They were known as the "scald-headed"
family, and though I have since studied medicine, I am
unable at this distance, to diagnose the disease. But I
remember this "scald-headed bunch" very distinctly.
Every member of the family from the parents to the
youngest of ten children were similarly affected, that is,
every scalp was a mass of corruption. Xo hair; but
instead the entire cranium was encrusted with scabby,
pus-exuding sores. It may have been vermin ; it may
have been a chronic infection. But whatever the cause,
the effect was loathsome beyond measure. These people
never came nearer our house than to pass along the
road, but as they never wore hats — couldn't with any
comfort — the condition of their heads was plainly
visible. This was, to be sure, an extreme case, and I
believe even among their own kind, this family was
taboo. The other members of the ornery trash were
slovenly enough, but for the most part were seldom so
Now in the older Hill section to the south where the
Rudolph family from the East first settled this ornery
element was negligible. Western immigration at the
160 The Swamps
time of this settlement had not yet set in ; there was no
driftwood of this character at that period. Only the
hardy, well-to-do Rudolphs and Deidricks — the latter
my mother's people — were here to be found. But at
the time my parents Avent to the Swamps the gold rush
was in full swing, and the Swamps proved a catch
basin for the leavings, the weak-kneed, the offscourings
that dropped off from the gold rush caravans as they
made their way to the West.
^sTot only was this ornery Swamp element a charge
at times on the self-supporting and self-respecting
families of the community, but they were forever
holding nocturnal shindigs, hoedowns, and other noisy
gatherings at their cabins. The entire gang always
attended these affairs, first held in one shack and then
in another, and, since one community was located above
our house and another below, they always passed us in
their goings and comings. As these parties never broke
up till far into the night, we were always awakened
when the noisy roisterers passed our house on their way
home. We had warned them to be quiet but with little
effect. They were dumb to our entreaties and the noise
Now my father, and all of us for that matter, needed
sleep, and he vowed he'd find a way to put an end to
these nightly nuisances. But how? That was the
question. He bethought him of their cowardice and
superstition. But he could not discover an effective
leverage that he could bring to bear upon this angle of
their weakness. ISTow there was a marsh, a sort of
The HrxTs And The Cro\vma.\> ICl
quagmire, near the road not far from our house. This
marsh, only a small area, was too low to suffer itself
to be drained into the Big Ditch. So it remained
uncultivated, and in it, rank vegetation year by year
grew up and rotted. I believe there was some founda-
tion for the report that mysterious lights had been seen
hovering over this marsh on certain nights. I know in
later years I found it an easy matter to collect marsh
gas here. Many a fruit jar I have filled with it by
holding the inverted container over the marshy bottom
while I stirred up the mud beneath with a long stick
and caught the released bubbles. This will-o'-the-wisp
had been bruited about the neighborhood, as a sort of
ghost, that held high jinks in the vicinity of the marsh.
My father now took occasion to spread fresh repons
about this luminous ghost, richly embellishing them for
a purpose. He was particular to have Jack Kling tell
some of the Crowmiins — the Crowmans and the Hunts
made up the majority of the ornery Swamp trash —
about the mysterious movements in the neighborhood
of the marsh, the pale ghostly, luminous body he had
seen there lately.
Then when he felt satisfied the objectionable ganir
had been sufiiciently apprised of these fresh manifesta-
tions about the marsh, he laid his plans for the denoue-
ment. He had to let Jack into the secret. Now Jack
Kling never would associate with this ornery trash.
Dink Cherry did; finally "took up'' with one of the
women and produced a motley brood of brats. True,
my brother at length induced him to go through a legal
162 The Swamps
ceremony with "his woman" which legalized his
children. But Jack preferred his own society to theirs.
He lived alone in his cabin, died there. Lonesome
Sundays he generally spent in the Big Woods.
So when my father suggested hazing this gang that
nightly disturbed us, Jack was in full accord. My
father could trust Jack, and together they laid their
plans. Already some of the gang had refused to pass
the marsh at night, but not many. Those who did
persist in attending these shindigs, acting upon the
policy of the little boy who whistled to keep his courage
up, were all the more noisy while passing this section
of the road.
In the meantime both Jack and my father devised
a costume of white muslin that was held out from the
body by a series of hoops. These hoops increased the
outline of the body to the size of a hogshead. Between
the hoops and the body, half a dozen candles inclosed
in glass bottles and supported on fireproof holders, were
arranged. The white muslin passed over the head,
and the two eyes were fitted with red paper, behind
each of which was placed in a glass lamp chimney, a
tallow tip. Jack Kling, always a boy at heart, took
especial delight in all these preparatiolis. To my
mother, of course, fell the task of fitting these great,
balloon-like garments to the men. She afterward
averred that this dressmaking for ghosts was the most
difficult job she ever was called upon to do.
But at length they were completed, and the two men
held a dress rehearsal one night in the back yard. Since
The Hunts Axd The Ckow maxs 163
I was sworn to secrecy, I was permitted to witness the
exhibition. It was most startling especially when they
practiced their weird motions — slow leaps, crouches and
Jack found out that on the coming Saturday night
there was to be given, at Dan Hunt's cabin, a
particularly pretentious affair. Dan was the official
fiddler. He also was a hunter when not engaged in
fiddling, and within the week, had located and captured
a den of six possums. For the coming occasion he had
promised a hot possum lunch.
When Jack reported this news my father exclaimed,
"That's our chance, Jack. It's the dark o' the moon,
too, a dark night is just when we want." Then after
a moment's thought he continued. "Jack, I want you
to cut a dozen saplings about ten feet long, and store
'em along the road just north of the marsh." To Jack's
inquiring glance my father replied, "Xever mind what
I want 'em for ; you'll find out in time."
Jack scratched the fringe of hair that bordered his
bald head, looked puzzled, but replied, "All right,
George, I'll have 'em there." And they were. I heard
Jack's axe the next afternoon in the woods alongside the
road. I ventured down and watched him. With every
sapling he toted to the road he'd give a merry chuckle.
"Going to be a big time here, Sheridan, next Saturday
night. I'll bet a Crowman or a Hunt won't pass this
marsh again at night for the rest of his life."
"Say, Jack, what's the poles for?" I asked.
164 The Swamps
"Dunno, son, but George is got something up his
sleeve, leave it to George, I am. We'll find out by and
Saturday night arrived. It was cloudy — and in the
dark of the moon. A blacker night could hardly be
imagined. In due course the gang could be heard
feeling their way above along the dark road to Dan
Hunt's cabin that stood just beyond the bend. After
they had passed our house my father said, "JSTow, Jack,
come on, let's set the poles." Then after a pause,
"Bring the axe and them forked sticks I cut this
afternoon, they're back of the woodhouse. We'll have
to take the tin lantern, too, it won't give enough light
for anybody to notice it." Jack with the axe and sticks
followed my father down the road to where the poles
lay. "^ow, Jack, drive these forks along the sides of
the road about twenty feet apart — one opposite the
other." I went along and held the lantern for Jack.
"N^ow lay the saplings in the forks — across the road,"
my father directed. Jack now began to see the use to
which the poles were to be put. He gave an approving
chuckle. When the work was completed we had twelve
poles across the road. They stood two feet or more
above the surface, just right to mix up a crowd — a
frightened crowd running from a ghost. "Has old
Doctor B. D. gone back yet. Jack? I saw him pass up
the road before supper."
"Hain't seed him," Jack answered.
"N^either have I. We got to lay down them hurdles
till he goes home. Guess old widder Sinclair must be
The Hints Axn The Ckowmaxs 1G5
purty poorly." Jack lifted each pole out of its crotch
and placed it by the side of the road. And none too
soon either, for just as he had finished, we heard the
dull thud of Doc's splay-footed mare thumping down
the road. *'Put that lantern under your coat. Jack,
and crouch down behind that bush." At the same time
my father grabbed me and dragged me to another
sheltering bush. In another minute Doctor B. D.,
mumbling to himself, went thudding by all unconscious
of our presence. "Better leave 'em down for the
present, someone else may come ambling along, it's
early yet ; let's go back to the house and get ready."
About midnight Jack replaced the poles, and walked
to the bend of the road in the direction of Dan Hunt's
cabin. He came back presently and reported that the
party was about to break up. Hurriedly Jack and my
father now donned their makeups, and went to the
edge of the marsh. There was no fence between the
marsh and the road — only a dense thicket behind which
the two ghosts took up their positions. I was ordered
to the house with the lantern, it was only a few hundred
feet away. This I did reluctantly. "Tell your mother
to put out the lights." I hurried home with the
message. After the lights were out, both my mother
and myself crouched down by the front window.
Brother Clarkson, who had been kept from the secret,
was asleep in bed. Through the gloom we could see on
the side of the thicket nearest the house the pale glow
of the ghostly costumes. We waited and waited. "Tlie
candles will burn out before they come," I commented.
166 The Swamps
To this my mother replied that every light was a good
half tallow candle and would burn two hours. From
our south window I could see the faint blink of the
window in Dan Hunt's cabin. Then a long streak of
light shot towards the road. The front door of the
cabin had been opened and showed up dark moving
objects. The party was over. My heart thumped with
excitement. The noise of the coming crowd now
reached my ears. They were nearing the marsh. I
saw the pale lights of the ghosts cautiously move towards
the road — then shoot forward. A screech that rent
the blackness of the night reached our ears. Then
another and another till all the countryside echoed and
re-echoed with the wild reverberation. With these ear-
splitting screams dull thuds mingled as one after
another of the panic stricken party reached and tumbled
headlong over the hurdles in their mad flight up the
road. Women fainted and were trampled in the dust
where they fell. Every time they tripped over a fresh
hurdle a cry for mercy would end in a muffled moan.
Both Jack and my father became alarmed lest some of
the frenzied crowd might destroy themselves. For a
time they withdrew behind the thicket. By this time
those who had negotiated the hurdles went pell mell and
still screaming up the road. My mother said she could
only make out now and then a black object against the
white, dusty road as it flew with the speed of an arrow
screaming along to the north. Those who had fainted
finally came to, moaning and half demented. Some of
them in their confusion headed back the other way.
The Hunts And The Crowmans 167
Jack was sent below to turn them. ''Blow out all but
one candle," my father directed. "I will remove the
hurdles." In this manner the poor, half-crazed
creatures still screaming when they saw the single light
finally were headed past our house.
When my father and Jack finally reached home they
wore serious faces. Their experiment had worked all
too well. Certainly, they thought, some of them had
been seriously injured.
Early next morning father removed the forked
sticks and poles out of sight, and destroyed all evidences
of human complicity in the matter. He picked up
shreds of clothing from the roadway, covered several
blood stains in the dust and smoothed out the signs of
Then we waited reports, but not long. Half of the
crowd was laid up with cuts, bruises and shattered
nerves. One poor wretch lay moaning in dementia for
over a week. Jack circulated among them and reported
his findings. The ghosts had multiplied from two to
twenty, they were violent ghosts and repeatedly knocked
their victims senseless in the middle of the road. They
exhibited numerous cuts and bruises to verify their
statements. Jack — to them — could not understand it,
he hadn't heard a thing all night, neither had George.
But he admitted it must be true. Jack declared to the
Crowmans and Hunts he wouldn't pass that marsh at
night for all the money in the world. He always
thought it was hanted. And then he added his own
experience, "once upon a time." The whole gang was
168 The Swamps
terrified, all but Dan Hunt. He only sneered and came
and went as usual. But alone and silent. Dan was
That ended our disturbance. The shindigs in the
lower settlements ceased. What few were held in the
upper were not attended by members below our house,
or if they were, they didn't come home till after day-
light. And then very quietly.
A Sunday's Program
With the coming of roads into the Swamps distances
were appreciably shortened; intercommunication in-
creased; the community circle was widened and neigh-
borhood news was more generally disseminated. My
parents could now visit their Hill relations in a single
day, and return by twilight. Social gatherings were
more widely attended and religious services more regu-
larly conducted. Several new churches were erected —
one, in order the better to accommodate the Swamp set-
tlement, was located at the edge of the Hills in the
direction of our home. Here both the Hill and the
Swamp branches of the Rudolph family met to worship ;
and on Sunday afternoons, to entertain and be enter-
tained. Very early I remember going to church. With
us it was not only a religious ritual, but a family
function as well. Sunday was, perhaps, the busiest day
in the whole week. Contrary to custom nowadays we
arose early on Sunday mornings because there were
many things to be done before starting for Church.
There was my Sunday morning bath, which in my
childhood days was rarely successful if left to my own
efforts. After I had sloshed around in the wash tub
behind the kitchen stove for awhile, my mother would
stop her breakfast operations long enough to look me
over, and with the usual exclamation of despair. Then
while breakfast waited she would roll np her sleeves.
170 The Swamps
and with a cake of brown homemade soap in one hand
and a coarse, knitted wash cloth in the other would
begin a vigorous scrubbing — chafing my skin till I
looked as red as a broiled lobster. Against her ener-
getic manipulations I would weakly protest, staggering
and swaying about the tub like a sailor just landed
from a long cruise.
But time was precious on these Sunday mornings,
the bacon was about to burn, and my mother had to
hurry. "^N'ow then," she would conclude, "hop out and
dry yourself while I fry the eggs." But try as I would
I could never master the art of reaching my back or of
forcing the coarse, homespun towel between my toes;
and mother again came to the rescue.
My "Sunday clothes" were laid on a chair, and
though I could ride old Fan in a gallop, I was forever
fuddled when I undertook to dress for church. My
stiffly starched waist was stubbornness personified.
After patiently working my hands through the glued and
boardlike sleeves I found I had the garment on "hind-
side foremost," or "inside out." It was the same with
my short, ample-legged pants — those with a row of
three bright buttons along the side of the slot where
they stopped at the knee. I would get both legs into
the same opening, or if not that, I would find the pants
after getting into them, facing away from church
when by all logic they should be turned towards the
Once more the breakfast would be delayed while my
mother unsnarled my Sunday clothes.
A Sunday's Program 171
But that was not all; my shoes during the week's
idleness had quarreled and separated. Only one could
be found; its partner had gone adrift, and could no-
where be located. Here was another exasperating
delay; my mother had to hunt for it, and once more
breakfast was halted. JSTot that I wore the shoes much
of the day — only slipping them on before reaching the
meeting house to be again discarded soon after services
— but they had to be found and tucked away under the
buggy seat ready when we wanted them. Then my
hat — my Sunday hat — not the one I wore, or generally
didn't wear, during the WTek; that was always to be
found on the floor or under the bed — but my Sunday
hat which was an important part of the Sunday regalia,
and which was always carefully put away in the band-
box, set apart for its use, each Sunday night. There
it reposed in seclusion till the next "Lord's Day." I
remember very well my first state hat. It was a semi-
soft gray affair with a black band and a narrow, turned-
up brim bordered with black braid; and a shiny, little
buckle where the band formed the bow. My gray coat,
also bound in black braid, about completed my Sunday
Meanwhile, my father, having returned to the house
from feeding the stock, stripped to the waist, and with
a basin of water and a bar of this brown, homemade
soap began, from the back steps, his Sunday morning
ablution. Then followed his weekly shave. The
formidable razor was first drawn from its sheath. A
leather strap was next fastened to the door. Then with
172 The Swamps
the art of a trained swordsman he dealt the strap a
resounding blow with the flat side of the razor.
Immediately he drew the blade across the strap, instant-
ly repeating the process in an opposite direction, till
the slaps and strokes blended into a rhythmic tattoo
that always fascinated me and raised my father, for
the moment, to the dignity of a magician. Every
moment I fully expected the keen edge of the razor to
sever the strap, or worse, to continue on its flight across
the leather to the fingers of his hand. But nothing of
the kind ever happened, though each time he stropped
his razor I held my breath in suspense.
It was equally alluring to watch him shave. When
he lathered his face, I was all attention. It always
reminded me of blowing soap bubbles. Beginning just
below the eyes, he worked the lather down through his
heavy, black beard, to a line drawn between the lobe
of his ear and the center of his chin. Here he stopped.
I often wondered why? Aiid in shaving how did he
know just where to stop in sweeping the keen blade
over his face ? And why didn't the razor go deep into
his flesh instead of just skimming over the surface?
It was little use for my mother to expect my own toilet
to progress much while father was shaving; for I was
certain sooner or later some grave accident would
happen; or if he, by good luck, came through un-
scathed, the line that marked the limit of his shaven
face from the bushy beard below would somehow
become hopelessly shifted, and in consequence my
A Sunday's Program 173
father's appearance would be ruined; for, I reasoned,
once that fixed line wavered all would be lost.
Breakfast would finally be announced which was
generally eaten in haste and attended with no little
anxiety, for still much remained to be done before the
family could begin the journey to church. Old Fan
was to be harnessed and hitched to the buggy. Suf-
ficient water had to be pumped into the big trough, dug
out of a huge log, to keep the cattle supplied for the day.
The chickens had to be fed, the hogs supplied with corn,
the cows milked and turned out to pasture, and a dozen
other preparations made to provide for leaving the
homestead unattended all day; for prepare as carefully
as we could against harm, our return to the farm at
nightfall often revealed some mischief done — the cows
had broken into the cornfield, the pigs into the potato
patch, the chickens sometimes scratched up the garden.
Then finally all excited and flustered we were
packed into the buggy — my brother and I between our
parents with our legs dangling over the high seat — and
old Fan started off. Surreptitiously I would sometimes
discover my father slip a chew of tobacco into his
cheek and when my mother was looking the other way
discharge the amber juice to his side of the road. 1
say "surreptitiously" because to chew on Sunday,
especially before church, was not considered good form,
although after services the ban was removed. For
after the families had paired off and gone home with
each other and had disposed of the generous dinner, th«'
men folks usually congregated under a shade tree in the
174 The Swamps
front yard. Here they swapped yarns and experiences
together with their different brands of tobacco, when
they chewed to their heart's content. Chewing in the
front yard after dinner was considered altogether good
It was the custom for one family after church to
go home for dinner with another family. The family
whose turn it was to entertain was usually apprised of
the fact the Sunday before, so that all might be in
readiness for the feast. These "turns" were figured out
with mathematical nicety so that at the close of the
year each family had entertained and been entertained
in about the same number of times. As a matter of
fact the entire congregation of about fifty families were
either Rudolphs or related by marriage to the Rudolphs,
so that after all it was largely a family affair from the
opening hymn to cider, tobacco and Sunday dinner.
We all felt free to act and talk frankly among ourselves
in this somewhat clannish, though always loyal, inter-
I enjoyed the buggy ride to the church and some
parts of the services, though the latter through no
special spiritual appeal. My enjoyment was partly
physical and partly speculative — physical because of the
comfortable accommodations of the church and the
pleasant anticipations of the afternoon — and speculative
because I found considerable interest in calculating the
time when the preacher would reach certain periods in
his sermon that I had come to know — the point where
he would emphasize the importance of baptism by
A Sunday's Program 175
immersion, and when he would begin to berate the
Methodists for their heretical doctrine of baptism by
sprinkling; then, again, when he would reach the most
exciting point of all in his sermon, when he would
"get mad;" by which expression we boys came to
denominate that part of the sermon where the preacher
would get all worked up in his peroration ; when he
would rant and race from one side of the platform to
the other; when he would gesticulate wildly; when he
would wipe his face feverishly to stem the streams of
perspiration that sprang from his florid face. This
was worth waiting for; it was the most absorbing por-
tion of the whole service. Time and again I have
gasped as one particularly fat and florid preacher,
whom I have in mind, all but fell from the platform
in his hysterical and unsteady rushes from side to side.
But how I loved that old roaring bull when he got mad !
What streams of perspiration ! What withering scorn
when he hammered the Methodists !
This storm was followed by the next period of the
sermon — the invitation to join the church. This par-
ticular sect did not believe in infant baptism. They
held that a child was sinless until the age of spiritual
consciousness; and it was for him to choose for himscli
after attaining that age whether he elected to be savcni
or lost. He was to be saved, if at all, by conviction of
a sense of sin — or through fear. Hell was pictured to
the young people in all its traditional luridness. In
imagination I have witnessed the sinner on innumerable
occasions frying and sputtering out his eternity in a lake
176 The Swamps
of burning brimstone. And some of the old pioneer
preachers were not lacking in their ability to paint in
vivid word pictures these sizzling scenes. They por-
trayed in no mean manner their conception of the suffer-
ing of the eternally damned. So vivid have been these
lakes of burning brimstone at times that I, myself, have
all but suffered the actual tortures of those who writhed
and squirmed through this period of the preacher's
presentation. Many times I have fancied I could feel
the consuming flame which so terrified me that I clung
with cold, clammy hands to the arms of my elders while
this lurid picture was being held up before the congre-
So a picture of hell and its eternally burning fires
generally prefaced the invitation to escape this great
disaster by joining the church. And then came the
pleading; the persuading. Tears now took the place of
perspiration on the fat preacher's face. This emotion
was not infrequently answered by sobs from some one in
the congregation; sobs, perhaps, from a mother because
of a self-willed son or daughter who had reached the age
of spiritual responsibility but had not yet joined the
church. It mattered not if such children were the most
devoted and considerate children in the world with
characters above reproach, loved and respected by
all ; still they were not members of the church in which
unsaved state they might be called before the bar of
eternal justice when, as their orthodox mothers firmly
believed, they would be doomed to sizzle through all
eternity in this lurid lake of burning brimstone. Her
A Sunday's Program 177
sobs were real because she loved her children dearly
and she believed with all her heart that if they died un-
baptized and without the church this awful fate awaited
And so the appeal went on — an affecting appeal be-
cause of the faith of the people, which when coupled
with a not inartistic and sincere presentation was far
from lacking in dramatic effect.
Exhortation alternated with song — some hymn with
a sentiment suited to the occasion. "Almost Persuaded*'
w^as always a favorite, containing that final hopeless
phrase, "But lost." How that terrible ending used to
run the gamut of dismay through the depths of my
soul; "Almost— but lost."
Then there would be a rustle as some stricken soul
made his way out from the long row of benches into the
aisle. Necks were cautiously craned in the direction
of the stir. If it proved to be some one who had long
resisted the pleadings of the preacher, every face became
immediately wreathed in triumphant smiles. A fervent
"amen" escaped the lips of some emotional member
though undignified demonstration was frowned upon in
our church. It was too much like the shouting of the
despised Methodists. But all was joy, and the preacher's
face was bathed in a supernal ecstasy that rippled from
ear to ear and swallowed up in its all-embracing ex-
panse every other feature of his fat physiognomy. He
grasped the newcomer by both hands as the pale suppli-
ant approached the platform. The hymn ceased. The
preacher announced the name, although everybody in
178 The Swamps
the church had known him or her from childhood — and
then the time of baptism by immersion was settled. This
usually took place on the following Sunday in the deep-
est swimming hole in the nearby creek. If more than
one joined, the enthusiasm was accordingly marked.
Then after this part of the services was concluded, the
Lord's Supper was celebrated. In this particular sect
we took communion every Sunday, the preacher always
quoting his authority for the practice from the Bible.
Of course, we children merely sat still while the bread
and wine was being passed to our elders in their pews.
This was a silent and introspective part of the services ;
only the occasional click of the cup or the scraping
sound of the plate when coming in contact accidentally
at times with some hard substance, broke the awe-
After this in order came the concluding hymn and
the benediction — and then, for me, the best part of the
The church was entered by two doors — one at the foot
of each aisle. By common consent — though there was
no official ruling in the matter — the women entered by
the right hand door, the men by the left. Within the
church they disposed themselves in like manner. In
courting days the swain left his sweetheart at the door,
and followed the custom of his elders in entering. But
if it could be arranged, the young man after entering,
crowded over next to the dividing rail on the other side
of which, by a previous understanding, sat hie girl. If
this could not be brought about they consoled themselves
A Sunday's Program 179
bj the prospect of the long buggy ride — unnecessarily
long, as it often happened — in store for them after
church was out; a buggy ride that brought her to her
parents' door to be called for later for the afternoon
singing school, or — in case of protracted meeting, for
the night preaching. But these protracted meetings
occurred but rarely, and usually the morning sermon
ended the religious services for the day, and — as for
that — for the entire week.
So after the benediction the people mingled together
in front of the church for fifteen or twenty minutes, in
which time Hiram passed the time o'day with George,
and Becky asked about Martha's new baby. Then the
congregation finally broke up and the visiting groups
were directed to follow the buggy of their host to his
home. Here was enacted a busy scene. The women
immediately donned gingham aprons, and while some
pared apples or peeled potatoes, others set the table, and
helped with the cooking. Of course, all niaTinor of
baking had been done the Saturday befor^ but all hot
dishes had to be prepared on the spot.
While these preparations were going on in the house,
the men with coats removed, were busily engaged in un-
hitching and caring for the horses. This was the signal
for us boys to fling aside our cumbersome coats, cast off
our shoes, and with the collars of our shirt waists wide
open, and legs bared to the knees, begin our afternoon
adventures. We knew from experience it would be well
in the afternoon before we could eat ; for after our elders
had finished their dinner and the table set again for
180 The Swamps
us the shadows would be falling far to the east. So
grabbing an apple or begging a piece of bread and butter
from our busy mothers we sallied forth to the orchard,
the creek, the fields or the woods bent upon any ad-
venture that chanced to come our way.
For me the creek offered the greatest attraction when
visiting in the Hills, for in the Swamps no natural water
courses ran — the Big Ditch being constructed by the
hand of man — and this form of diversion always strongly
appealed to me. True, in midsummer these wadies or
partly dried up gullies contained but little water, but
what pools remained were deeper and fraught with
greater possibilities in the way of finding fish and frogs
than the smaller and shallower pools of our Big Ditch.
To wade in these pools up to my knees made the chills
of excitement fairly tumble down my back.
The orchard, too, was always pleasant. Especially
uncle George Rudolph's orchard — "Old uncle George,"
he was called in contradistinction to George, my father —
for uncle George was one of the first settlers in the Hills
and his orchard planted half a century ago was now
hoary with age though it generally hung rich in tempting
fruit. Here we stuffed and stuifed, so that when called
to dinner we Avere in no condition to do justice to the
meal. Then, too, uncle George's barn was, to my childish
eyes, one of the seven wonders of the world. It was
larger and more pretentious than his house, which in
itself was no cause for comment, since all the barns
were bigger than the dwellings ; but because it was many
times larger than his house, it was, by common consent,
A Sunday's Program 181
given the pride of place of all the barns in the
In this barn we played and climbed over the hay to
the topmost beams, and frequently received for our
recklessness many a rough tumble and painful bump.
And how these excursions stand out in my mind !
These Sunday afternoons when with my cousins — first,
second, third and so on to infinity, some older, some
younger than myself — I roamed the woods and fields,
dug mice from their dens, chased chipmunks and
squirrels, birds-nested, climbed to a flicker's hole in the
side of an old dead tree, or routed out a gray squirrel
from his summer nest in the top of an oak; fished for
minnows with pins bent for hooks in the pools of the
dried-up streams, and devised a hundred other engross-
ing ways of employing the all too short afternoons.
And so these Sundays passed. Late in the afternoon
old Fan would be brought out from the stable, watered
and hitched to the buggy. After arranging for the next
Sunday's feast and frolic we would head for home, a
long dusty drive that brought us at twilight, if our
start had not been unduly delayed, in front of the barn-
yard gate. Often by the light of the tallow-candle
lantern the chores — the milking, feeding, watering — had
to be done. And then tired and sleepy I would be
bundled off to bed— to dream of the adventures of the
Pastimes in the Swamps
Pastimes, in the usual acceptation of the term, was not
a word that could be properly placed in the vocabulary
of the Swamps. Whatever was the nature of the
activities of those early days, they always aimed, as their
ultimate object, to contribute some important item to
existence. If a certain kind of work carried with it an
element of sport or recreation, this might under an
elastic classification be called a pastime. Hunting
could be placed under this liberal list though this
pastime was seldom indulged in by the early settlers
except to supply the larder. This was especially true
of my father who never hunted big game through the
mere love of it, though few pioneers were a better shot
or a more expert hunter than he.
There was one kind of hunting, however, that always
proved to him most absorbing. That was the taking of
wild turkeys. My mother used to declare he would get
up at any time of the night, if he knew of a turkey roost,
and sit patiently for hours in the neighborhood of the
turkeys, waiting till it grew light enough to shoot.
During the period of my own early childhood wild tur-
keys could still be found in the swamps, and I can
clearly remember seeing my father come trudging up the
lane in the early morning from the direction of the Big
Woods with a magnificent bronzed gobbler slung over
one shoulder, and with Long Tom across the other. I
184 The Swamps
don't know how much these great gobblers weighed, but
on more than one occasion I remember seeing one of
these beautiful birds lying on the ground at the back
door, and it seemed to me to be some enormous,
prehistoric product that belonged to some former age
of feathered loveliness. How beautifully those bronzed
pinions lay in a lacelike pattern over back and breast
and neck ! How they caught up the rays of the
morning sun and reflected the palpitating sheen in all
the scintillating colors of the rainbow !
These birds were not only beautiful, but useful as
well; for a week of delicious meat lay enfolded within
those gilded feathers. I remember this part, too — the
crisp brown carcass as it made its first appearance on
the family board and the taste of the first tender cuts
of juicy meat. And then as the week wore on the
carcass took on a different aspect, the "stuffing"
seasoned with onion juice and savory herbs, gradually
disappeared from the huge cavern inside the bird's bony
framework, the last tidbits of meat were picked from
the bones and, then finally two days of tasty, thick soup,
the very marrow and essence of the turkey.
These wild turkeys were mainly to be found in the
Big Woods, though they foraged for grain in the nearby
fields. After a light snowfall in early winter their
tracks could often be seen about the shocks of corn
where their visits were further confirmed by the bare
cobs from which they had shelled most of the corn. But
it was next to impossible to get a shot at them while they
were feeding in the open, so well picketed was the flock.
Pastimes in the Swamps 185
Usually a sharp-eyed gobbler stood on guard while the
remainder of the family partook of their meal of maize.
So alert was the watchful sentinel that one's approach
would be announced as soon as he appeared in sight,
when with a tremendous whir the whole flock would take
to the air and be away to the woods.
My father's method of getting wild turkeys was first
to locate their roost, and then before daylight to ap-
proach the neighborhood where the birds were perched
and conceal himself until dawn. With the first streaks
of gray in the east he would begin calling them. This
was done by the aid of a turkey's thigh bone that had
been shorn of its end joints or enlargements, and then
hollowed out into a tube. By placing the end of this
against his lips, after the manner of a cornet player, my
father could very accurately imitate the call of the
turkey hen. So perfect was his call that any gobbler
within sound of it would generally be completely
deceived and promptly accept the challenge and make
at once in the direction of this Lorelei of the woods.
Tense moments marked the break of day, for then
my father prepared to sound forth the first notes of the
lovelorn hen. At once the gobbler seeking adventure
would straighten up from the limb on which he had
passed a pleasant night and answer with a vigorous
gobble. Again would come the languishing tones of the
synthetic hen. By the second or third call the gobbler
would have located the direction of the sound, where-
upon he began making preparations to keep the tryst.
All the while my father would keep up the seductive
186 The Swamps
invitation. And each call would be answered by a
prompt, "Coming, coming, coming," from the gobbler.
These were exciting moments — moments when the gob-
bler might at any instant start to fly from his perch to
some point that seemed to him to be nearest the hidden
hen. Where the gobbler would alight meant much to
the watcher. Sometimes the male bird would be able to
locate the spot from whence the call proceeded so ac-
curately that he would land almost on top of the con-
cealed hunter. This would, of course, prove disastrous,
for the bird would no sooner discover the impostor than
he would be up and away before the watcher could even
lift his gun. At other times intervening brush and trees
would make it impossible to get an unobstructed shot.
Long Tom could not be handled as readily and handily
as a modern gun. Its six foot length had to be man-
euvered among the brush into position and trained on the
bird. All this took time and careful manipulation.
Many a gobbler after being almost within the hunter's
grasp had taken fright and escaped. It was a job re-
quiring great care and skill.
But once the bird came within range, the hammer
was drawn back, the hair trigger carefully adjusted, a
bead was drawn on the gobbler, and the sharp "ping" of
Long Tom usually meant another turkey for the table.
Spotting bee-trees also fell into this class of useful
and profitable Swamp pastimes. Wild bees were
plentiful in the Swamps. They found an abundant
supply of honey in the wild flowers that grew luxuri-
antly in the moist, rich soil of this low-lying laud.
Pastimes ix thk Swamps 187
These bees stored their honey in hollow trees and
hunting bee trees became a profitable and fascinating
game with the early settlers. The means employed by
the bee-tree hunter were primitive but fairly effective,
the principle being that of following the bee's flight to
the hive. This involved some patience, for the course
of the bee could be kept within the field of vision for
only a few seconds.
N'ow it is wtII known that the traditional destiny
of the w^orking bee is to collect and store away honey.
Then it may reasonably be inferred that once the
honey bee comes upon something of a saccharine nature
its interest is immediately aroused. It is potential
honey and by an instinct born of a long inheritance the
bee immediately sets about conveying it to the central
colony. Upon this characteristic the pioneer bee hunter
relied for his success in tracing the bee to its home. If
honey is available this is used as a lure for the bee ; but
in its absence any sweet substance may be substituted.
During his first autumn in the Swamps my father
located one of these bee trees, and found it filled with
clear honey of an excellent quality. For bait he used
sorghum molasses made from sorghum cane which at
that time, along with maple syrup, provided for the
early settlers the sole source of sweetening. Taking a
saucer of this molasses he set it down where the bees
were most numerous. In a short time they had
discovered it, and at once began carrying it to the home
hive. My father's business now was to note the
direction the bees took after loading up with the
188 The Swamps
sorghum. Then he would move the saucer further
along the line of flight to a point where the bees dis-
appeared from the limit of vision. Again the bees came
and again he noted the direction and moved the molasses
accordingly. At length he reached a point where the
bees no longer followed this line but reversed their
course. Then carefully moving back the bait, a short
distance at a time, he finally located a spot where the
bees ascended in a spiral direction up among the trees.
He was now in the immediate vicinity of the hive, and
taking up a position where the light afforded good
visibility he at last followed them to a tall maple where
he saw them enter a knothole about half way up the
trunk. This hole led into the hollow interior.
The rest was easy. He marked the tree and when
the chill weather in the late Fall numbed the bees, he
chopped it down and extracted the honey. Old bee trees
that had been occupied by a thrifty colony for some
time often contained an amount of honey sufficient to
supply these early pioneer families with sweetening for
almost an entire year.
Another side employment that might properly be
classed as pickup work, or an evening pastime, was
basket making. To build a pleasing and useful basket
is no mean art. The practice of making their own
baskets continued in the Swamps long after the settlers
could buy the machine-made articles in the open market.
These commercial baskets, though cheap, never took the
place of those made by hand. And the reason was not
far to seek, for one homemade basket would outlast a
Pastimes ix the Swamps 189
dozen of those fashioned in the faetory. In later years
I often watehed my father, then a man in middle
life, on winter evenings sitting alongside his material,
deftly weaving these useful eontainers. From a bundle
of pliable ribbons split from a clear, tough piece of
white oak he selected his woof and wove them around
a warp of hickory withes, an art acquired by the early
settlers as easily and naturally as they learned to hunt
and trap and master the mysteries of woodcraft.
By the same token the women of those days were
with scarcely an exception expert weavers of various
fabrics — of homespun, of carpets, of rugs and other
articles of a textile nature. But by common consent
basket making was relegated to the men — an occupation
that most men of the times readily took to; for, in the
absence of books and social diversions their winter
evenings hung heavily on their hands. To employ this
idle time they resorted to basket making.
Some of these baskets were woven with wooden
ribbons that had previously been stained with vegetable
dyes. With these various colored strips many attractive
designs were worked into the body of the basket. These
baskets were not only ornamental but useful, and some
of them may still be found as prized heirlooms, in the
possession of families whose ancestors were Swamp
Because of weather conditions there were days on the
farm when no outside work could be done. And on rare
occasions, because of lack of material or some other good
and sufficient reason, there was nothing to be done
190 The Swamps
inside. I always hailed these rare combinations with
supreme delight, for it meant for me a day with Jack
Kling; a day with none of the usual demands upon the
old trapper's time ; a redletter day when in the workshop
or wood shed he would employ the hours in building for
me the most ingenious traps, deadfalls and snares that
ever enraptured a boy's imagination. During the
progress of the work he would explain how to use them,
making interesting observations on the ways of wild
creatures and intersperse his remarks with an occasional
recital of some experience that befell him in the old
trapper days. I can see him now with his jolly, round
face rippling up into his bald pate as he labored
diligently and perspired copiously over some contraption
that was destined to bring havoc to innumerable
squirrels, rabbits or coons.
Jack knew the wild folks intimately, and I have
often marveled at his ingenious use of this knowledge
when planning their capture. He knew just where to
place the "chimney" trap for quails, to set the deadfalls
for squirrels, and locate the box trap for rabbits. And
the bait, too; he seemed to know by instinct just what
sort of a titbit at any given time would prove the
most tempting to the quarry. Jack was a born trapper
and the lure never left him.
Considerations, other than trapping for pastime or
for the table, frequently led to the dispatching of various
farmstead enemies. Certain beasts proved to be pests
and had to be killed. They destroyed fruit and grain,
and often injured our property. Against rats and mice
Pastimes in the Swamps 191
and skunks and weasels we waged constant war. A few
birds, too, we regarded as foes to our husbandry.
Orchards throve but ill in the Swamps, and every
tree that survived and bore fruit was precious. Cherries
did fairly well. We loved cherries; so did the wood-
peckers. It was always a question as to who got the
most of the cherries — my mother or the woodpeckers.
Xow the family sympathies were always with my
mother; for in her hands the cherry was miraculously
transformed from the food of mortals to the dainties of
the gods. Cherry pie? Never. It was ambrosia.
Cherry cobbler covered with my mother's "dip"? Never
could that be described except in allegory. It was
essentially spiritual; it approached soul substance; that
sublimated substance that a healthy boy's appetite
ennobles to the realm of gastronomic glory.
And so when the woodpecker sat about on nearby
perches waiting for the first blush to appear on the
maturing cherries, my mother, and all of us, became
greatly excited. We tried covering up the trees with
netting, especially one favorite tree whose fruit drew
its exquisite flavoring from nature's most delicate
extracts. But to no purpose. The woodpeckers with
their steel-like beaks tore it to shreds.
Then Jack Kling, one evening after work, looked up
at the tree and thoughtfully passed his fingers through
that thin lambrequin of hair that fringed the base of
his billiard-ball head. We held our breaths. When
Jack took on that thoughtful gesture inspiration was
192 The Swamps
hovering about his bald head. We waited expectantly
for the oracular pronouncement, xlt length it came.
"Them pesky birds won't leave a blessed cherry get
ripe," he began. That was mere commonplace. We
all knew that. I told him so, but asked him how it
could be helped? "I once killed a sapsucker acci-
dentally," he continued utterly ignoring my question.
"It was climbing up a little sapling. I was clearing
away the undergrowth down by the Big Ditch, and when
it come the turn of this sapling to be cut down I struck
it with the ax and the sapsucker come tumbling to the
ground with the first blow. I never knowed how I done
it, but I began to think. Then I struck the slender sap-
ling another blow and watched the top. I noticed it give
a slap in the direction of the blow. That must have
killed the bird; leastwise stunned it, for when I was
handling it, it come to again and flew away." Then
scratching his head again he continued; "I have an
idee; won't do no harm to try it out." And without
another word, though it was getting dark, he grabbed
the ax and jumped over the fence into the edge of the
woods. In a few minutes he returned bearing on his
shoulder a long, lithe hickory sapling shorn of its
branches and chopped off near the top.
"Gret the spade," he commanded. I brought it from
the tool house. "And the lantern." This was brought.
I watched him eagerly while I held the lantern. At the
base of the cherry tree he dug a hole about two feet deep.
Into this he set the pole. Then he firmly tamped the
earth back again around the pole. The slender willowy
Pa-STIMES IX THK SwAMPS 19o
sapling when he had finished the tamping was as firmly
established in the ground as if it had grown there.
Stepping from under the branches I saw the pole over-
topped the cherry tree by about four feet. Jack sur-
veyed his work with obvious satisfaction.
"I*^ow," said he, "I'm going home. I'll be up early in
the morning to try it out before going to work." Jack
then trudged down the lane in the gathering gloom to
his cabin that stood on the lower part of our farm. I
half guessed Jack's plan and was all expectancy in
Jack was on hand bright and early. So were the
"Come under the tree and keep still," Jack directed,
as he picked up the ax where he dropped it the night
before and crept under the low branches of my mother's
favorite cherry. The birds were tame and if they saw
us they gave us no heed. With a scream of delight a
brilliant red head bellied up against the to[> of the pole.
The bird seemed overjoyed, for here was a specially
erected perch on which he could sit and, at close range,
pick out the choicest cherries. "Which side is he on ?"
Jack whispered. I sighted along the pole and then told
Jack he was on the side next the tree. Jack carefully
drew back the ax and on the same side gave the pole a
resounding whack. To my utter surprise the woodpeck-
er came tumbling to the ground about fifteen feet away.
"Pick him up,'^ Jack urged. I ran out from und»'r
the tree and grabbed the wood|)ecker. "Don't let him
get away," Jack warned.
194 The Swamps
"Get away?" I answered in surprise, "He*s dead;
how can he get away ?"
"Don't fool yourself," Jack rejoined. "He's only
got the wind knocked out of him ; if you don't hold him
tight he'll fly away. He'll be as fit as a fiddle in a few
minutes." Jack was right. Even as he spoke the wood-
pecker was showing signs of life. In a little while
longer he was struggling to be free.
"What'd I tell you?" said Jack, "Wring his neck
before he gets away." I did. "One less red-headed
thief," Jack mused as the quivering bird lay on the
ground beside us. "^ow try the next one yourself," said
Jack handing me the ax. All excited I took it.
"There's one on the pole now," Jack guessed. We heard
a scratching sound as the wood-pecker landed and
clasped the bark with his claws. I looked and noted the
side of the pole to which the bird was clinging. "Give
it a good one," Jack urged as I drew back the ax. But
I failed to bring down my bird. Though stunned it
fluttered away. "N'ot enough elbow grease," Jack
explained. "Hit her square and hard." ISTow though I
was young I was strong as an ox. My father often
said I could do a man's work at six, which, of course,
was an exaggeration. But I was a husky boy and when
the next woodpecker lighted on the pole I put all my
strength into the blow and the redhead fell with a thud
in the grass. I exulted and Jack praised me.
When breakfast was announced I could scarcely quit
the new-found pastime. Jack, too, was loath to leave
Pastimes in the Swamps 193
the sport, and followed my father reluctantly to the
field. Father allowed me to remain at the house and
kill woodpeckers. At noon I had bagged twenty. And
not a cherry stolen. At night I had scored forty-five
The cherries ripened rapidly. In three days — three
days of watching and killing — the cherries were
ready to gather; and we had fresh pies and cobbler for
two weeks, and enough cherries canned to last us all
I have never seen this poling of woodpeckers done
elsewhere ; I have often wondered if the idea was origi-
nal with Jack.
My First Fight
I MAKE no pretence at chronological accuracy in setting
down these episodes of my boyhood days. The
sequence of these happenings is far more vague than are
the events themselves. For that reason I find it diffi-
cult for me even to guess at my age with reasonable
exactness when I fought with Charley WoodhuU. I
only know I was making a pretence of going to school
at Rushville, and that I was in the Big Room. But the
fight itself! ah, that looms large and legible across the
lustrous page of time.
These fights among the boys of the Big Room were
weekly occurrences. Usually the combatants were
matched as evenly as possible though a slight discrepancy
in strength and size was never allowed to prevent a fight
from taking place. Of course an evenly matched fight
was more thrilling; but rather than have no fight at all
we put up with a one-sided contest. This naturally
worked a hardship on the weaker member of the team,
though once in a great while these " Inindn'd-to-oiu'
shots" showed unexpected speed and skill when the
contest, because of its element of surprise, became un-
My fight with Charley Woodhull was out of the line
of the ordinary because it was to be a three-cornrnd
contest. If one of the corners crumbled early In tho
198 The Swamps
bout it added to, rather than diminished the interest in
Charley Woodhull was a physical prodigy. 'None
dared tackle him single handed. For this reason he
had long escaped his ^'turn" in the ring. I^ow there was
nothing innately wrong with Charley, but because of the
consciousness that he was the biggest and strongest boy
in school he had developed an exaggerated superiority
complex which, at this semi-savage age, played a too
prominent part in his attitude toward society. He
lorded it over us in the most obnoxious manner. We
felt that if Charley could be disciplined the morale of the
school would be greatly improved. Of course Charley
was perfectly willing to fight, but we could find no one
who would accept his challenge. Here was the difficulty.
And all the while Charley Woodhull was becoming
more and more impressed with his power. Something
had to be done. The heel of the tyrant was growing
heavier and heavier upon our servile necks.
Finally one noon recess I took up the matter with
a group of the oppressed — Charley lived in the village
and was at lunch — and we all agreed that unless this
bully was soon subdued life in his presence would become
intolerable. But how could we tame him; how could
we bring about his humiliation ? That was the question.
Then an idea occurred to me and I immediately
advanced it. "Say, fellers," I began, "you all know
Charley is twice as strong as any of us — what's the
matter with two of us fighting him?"
The idea caught on at once and every boy thought
My First Fight 199
that here was the means of bringing the bully low.
A good drubbing would make him decent ; he was drunk
with power. That being unanimously adopted the
next question was the selection of his opponents. Ah,
that was a question I had not thought of, but that now
presented to me a new and very personal angle. I had
an uncomfortable presentiment that being the protagon-
ist of the proposition I would naturally be selected as
one of Charley's opponents. I didn't give much thought
to mental telepathy in those days, but it must have
existed nevertheless, for scarcely had the idea entered
my mind when the boys unanimously elected me to the
honor of one of the team to bear the brunt of Charley's
sledge hammer fists. To me my proposition had proved
a boomerang, and I could already feel the stunning effect
of its returning blows. My heart was filled with black
despair. But only for a moment. The event was not
yet at hand, and why cross one's bridges before coming
to them? I consented with labored unconcern.
l^ow who would be my team mate ? I was given the
privilege of selecting whom I chose. I began to look
the boys over. Each face winced as it came under my
close scrutiny. I finally settled on my cousin Ezra —
Ezra Rudolph. Ezra was game and consented to share
with me the honor of being pummeled to a pulp by
Charley Woodhull. Ezra was not quite as solid as 1,
but he was very agile and quick. He could outrun me,
and in wrestling I found it difficult to hold him down.
I thought he might act the part of the swift swallow in
harassing the hawk, while I could register my heavier
200 The Swamps
blows. We meant to keep the arrangement from
Charley until the day of the battle; we imagined if
Charley knew of our doubling up on him he might take
it into his head to wallop us singly beforehand. But
to keep news of this tremendous importance from
reaching him was about as futile as to attempt to keep
water from passing through a sieve. Before he had
been on the school ground five minutes, after return-
ing from his lunch, he knew the whole scheme. When
he had fully acquainted himself with the plan he took
occasion to pass very near to where I was standing. He
looked at me with an expression of withering scorn, and
I shrank under his ominous gaze. I could already feel
the deadly thud of his massive fists as they fell upon my
!N'ow that he already knew, I could have no peace
until the ordeal was over. ^NTothing could be gained by
delay. I saw Ezra at the afternoon recess and we
decided to take the offensive and force the issue. I
argued that there was no time like the present time, and
insisted that the battle take place at once — on that very
day after school. Ezra reluctantly consented and soon
every boy in school knew we were going to try con-
clusions with Charley immediately after school.
During that last afternoon hour I don't believe there
was much serious study; I know my mind was any-
where but on my lessons.
Finally we were dismissed, and Ezra and I hastened
to the usual battleground which by common consent was
a graveled arena in front of Mr. Hallrand's store and
My Fikst FniiiT 201
by the side of the railroad. With my heart beating
like a trip hammer I waited with Ezra for Charley's
eonlident and leisurely approaeh. His face was
wreathed in a sinister smile.
^*Well," he said as he came up, ^^you fellers ready T'
I answered with a blow that landed on his cheek. I
think Charley was not expecting such an informal
beginning; he seemed a little taken V>ack, and the con-
fident smile vanished. Ezra followed my lead with a
punch on the other cheek. Charley clenched his fists
and got into action at once. He first directed his
attention to Ezra, and while I continued to pummel
him from my corner he took the punishment without
turning to me. Two or three well aimed blows sent
Ezra groggy and reeling across the gravelled arena.
His nose was bleeding profusely and I was wondering
how soon he would come back. In the meantime
Charley turned to me. I parried and fought back with
vigor but in a short time my face was covered with
blood. Charley was going strong and with the exception
of a few insignificant scratches he bore no marks of
the battle. I turned to my cousin expecting him to
come to my relief, but to my utter amazement I saw
him start to run up the railroad in the direction of his
home. My heart sank to my boots. I was lost.
Xow^ it never occurred to me that ray legs were as
useful as were Ezra's, and that if called upon, they
would carry me out of the danger zone, too. I did not
think of this means of escape; I could only visualize
my utter annihilation. I was hopelessly doomed.
202 The Swamps
Then the primitive instinct of self preservation
arose in my breast and I began to cast about me for
aid in any form that I could command. In those days
the rails of the railroad were fastened together by means
of a piece of timber bolted to the iron on each side of
the joint. One of these bolts chanced to be lying loose
at my feet. It was about six inches long and was fitted
at one end with a head and with a, nut at the other.
Between the blows I stooped and grasped this bolt. It
just fitted my fist leaving at either end an inch or more
of iron. This may not have been according to the
rules of the ring but it suited my purpose of self
preservation. My flesh-and-blood partner had failed
me; I needed an iron friend. I found this friend just
in time, for I was getting a terrific beating. The blood
was blinding me. With my new weapon I struck out
wildly. Some of the blows Charley parried, but some
of them reached his face. And with telling effect.
Every time my mailed fist struck him blood flowed.
Charley now was as bloody as myself. Only a few
boys remained by the ring side; those who had become
convinced that murder was being committed rushed
home. They refused to qualify as material witnesses
to the tragedy.
Still we struggled on. [N'either of us could see
clearly through the streaming blood. Our eyes began
to swell. We staggered about the gravelled space like
drunken sailors. Only now and then our blows went
home. I am not sure how the bloody battle would have
ended had not one of the few remaining boys rushed
My First Fight 203
iuto Mr. Hallraiid's store aud declared that we were
killing each other. Now Mr. Hallrand knew we boys
were in the habit of having these scraps in front of
his store, but he did not take them seriously — considered
them only harmless escapes for the surplus vitality and
energy of youth. Heretofore he had sometimes
observed them but without interference. Usually after
a few harmless punches the one or the other was
declared the winner and the contest came to a close.
The physical damage of the combat was negligible and
everybody went home satisfied with the entertainment.
But there was something so tragic in the face of
the boy who now implored him to interfere that Mr.
Hallrand stopped weighing out and tying up his pound
packages of brown sugar, and followed the boy through
the door to where w^e were "killing each other." Mr.
Hallrand must have been duly impressed with the
spectacle. In after years he told me on more than
one occasion that he was utterly shocked as he beheld
Charley and me in this bloody boyish battle. Our
faces, our clothing, our fists were smeared with blood.
Even the gravel at our feet showed dark splotches of
blood. Our eyes were swollen, our movements unsteady
and staggering. And yet we wobbled together with
w^hat strength we had left and continued the combat.
As for myself I remember only the obsessing impulse
to defend myself and wear down my opponent in what-
soever manner I could command. I was unconscious
of all else — just to keep on striking at Charley's head
with my blood-besmeared bolt; striking weakly now
204 The Swamps
and blindly, but striking, striking with all my waning
strength. I was also conscious through it all of the
sickening blows from the slippery fists that in some
manner came from the vague bulk that weaved and
wobbled before my fast closing eyes. I was only
conscious of his presence now in a dully uncertain way
and more dead than alive I was taking my punishment
with a numbing hopelessness born of desperation and
despair. We were both ready to drop from sheer
As soon as Mr. Hallrand recovered from his shock
and amazement he rushed between us. His voice
seemed to reach me from the end of the corridors of
Time. It sounded strange and hollow to my bruised
and battered ears. And as through a gathering gloom
I could just make out the outlines of his bulky body.
To my blood-shot eyes it appeared distorted and
grotesque; it seemed to float like an enormous balloon
before me. I could see Charley, too, a fantastic
semblance to a human Thing weaving in and out of
my line of vision. There was a mist settling over
my senses. It seemed to be growing dark.
Then I felt something cold against my face, and
I revived sufficiently to discover that I was sitting on
the platform in front of the store, and that some one
was bathing my face.
In the meantime Charley^s father had been notified
of the predicament of his son, and he at once came to
the scene of conflict. It seems Charley's face and head
had been cut with my iron bolt to such an extent that
My First Fight 205
i>r. B. D. had to be called to stitch up half a dozen
After the blood had been removed from my face
Mr. Hallrand placed me in charge of another boy
who lived near my home, and he took me by the arm
and led me away. My eyes were now almost completely
closed, and I could see my way but indistinctly. I had
been fearfully battered and bruised, but not seriously
cut. The bleeding had stopped, but my face had now
swelled to grotesque proportions. Before I reached
my home 1 had to hold my eyelids apart with my
thumb and finger in order to make my way along the
In the meantime a new terror had arisen ; what
would be my punishment at home? The thought of
another thrashing made me sick at heart. 1 almost
collapsed as I envisaged that hickory rod descending
upon my tortured body. Life with this added suffering
in prospect had lost its lure. I could have given up the
ghost. I was ready to die and have it all over with.
My mother was the first to meet me. Her face must
have borne an expression of horror. 1 was spared seeing
it. The room was dark to me; 1 could not even make
out the furniture. My mother gave a single exclama-
tion of surprise and then, as was her wont, she was
in complete command of herself.
In the darkness I was resigned to my fate. With
utter indifference I awaited my doom. But instead of
upbraiding me my mother led me to the bedroom and
helped me remove my blood-spattered clothing. Then
206 The Swamps
she assisted me to the bed. Gentleness? Solicitude?
I was overwhelmed. My muddled mind reverted to
the time when I confessed to the pilfering of old
Biddie's eggs, and I experienced again the sacrament
of my mother's love. I had the urge to cry, to break
down completely, but the salt tears made my bruised
eyes and battered face smart so acutely that involun-
tarily the flood gates closed. Only once did my mother
ask me the reason for my wrecked condition, and I
answered in anguish: "Charley WoodhuU and me — we
had a fight." Never again did she refer to the subject.
She applied hot towels to my face ; she made me a bowl
of gruel and in excruciating pain I managed to swallow
Then I heard the footsteps of my father outside.
Once more my courage sank to the vanishing point.
I could depend upon the mercy of my mother. But
what about father ? He had warned me about fighting.
I refused to think.
My mother hurriedly left the room. I could hear
her telling my father of my predicament. There were
vigorous words exchanged. "He's had enough," I heard
my mother say.
Then father came into the room where I lay on
the bed. Inwardly I groaned. I couldn't see him; I
couldn't see anything. My eyes were now completely
closed. But I heard him stop by the side of the bed.
I fancy my mother stood nearby. All was silent. For
the moment my mental anguish dulled my physical
suffering. Then my father left the room.
My First Fight 207
Sometime in that hectic night I fell asleep. But
what a sleep! It was a hideous nightmare. I was in
the depths of the Inferno. Through an endless eternity
devils, imps and demons danced about my pillow and
with red hot pitchforks prodded my swollen and pain-
racked head. Several times during the night I was
conscious that my mother was by my side.
Then I heard the roosters crowing and I could
partially open my eyes. I could just see enough to
make out that it was growing light. My mother came
in with some dainties on a big plate. I could eat with
some comfort. The swelling had noticeably gone down.
Later my father came in. Again he was silent, but
this time he stooped and patted me on tjie shoulder.
Then he went to work. For him this was a tremendous
demonstration of affection. I pondered it long. I had
never loved my father so much.
I attempted to get up, but every joint protested in
excruciating pain. I remained where I was. My little
brother, Clarkson came in and vehemently swore, in his
sputtering way, that when he grew to be a man he
would utterly annihilate Charley Woodhull — would
grind him like a worm under his heel. I warmed
towards Clarkson as I had never done before. I
promised to give him a larger part in my games and
pastimes. Life was beginning to look more rosy. I
was assuming the role of a hero, and I was deriving a
certain amount of pleasure from it.
In the afternoon I left the bed. Youth was again
asserting itself. My face though less swollen was dis-
208 The Swamps
colored beyond belief. But I could walk and I
wondered if I would be compelled to go to school on
the morrow. But I wasn^t. My father took me to
the field with him the next morning; and he was
particularly considerate of me. Once only did he refer
to the fight. I told him how it happened and how Ezra
turned tail and left me alone. He frowned at this.
But when I related the remainder of the contest his
face glowed with pride.
"You're too stiff to do that," he warned as I
attempted to help carry some rails to the fence he was
repairing. "Sit down on that stump and rest."
Here was a real father and I could have embraced
him. But I didn't. We seldom showed our innermost
I didn't return to school that week. J^either did
Charley Woodhull. Monday morning we met. I
remember that meeting very well. We eyed each other
for a moment. Then Charley came over to me and
took me by the hand. "Say, Sheridan, let's have a
game of crack the whip, and you take the head of the
line this time." Our eternal friendship had been
sealed in blood.
Coon huntiug! What emotions surge through my
breast when I recall these delectable occasions! Even
yet I can hear the musical roll of old Sounder's voice as
it broke forth on the vibrant air of the Autumn night.
He has struck a trail, and is in full cry. The stars
of the crisp night shine like coruscating diamonds above
us. The first light frost of the Fall has tinged the
maples with splotches of red and gold, but the corn
alongside the woods is still green, and we can still find
enough "roasting ears" to go with our broiled chicken
and baked potatoes which we propose to prepare at the
foot of the coon tree later on — when old Sounder has
chased his quarry to cover.
Then let us up and away, stumbling pell mell,
through brush and briars, fet<;hing up against fences,
dropping into ditches, and tripping over fallen trees
trying to keep up with old Sounder, for he always sets
a hot pace when he bellows along a fresh coon trail.
Old Sounder soon grew from the sad-eyed, long-
eared, awkward little puppy that he was when we
brought him home from the Hills, into a massive coon
hound as big as a mastiff and twice as strong. His legs
were as hard as iron and his body as tough as leather.
But I never loved old Sounder, as I loved Tip — Tip,
the inseparable companion of my early childhood days.
Sounder possessed but one talent — coon hunting. At
210 The Swamps
this he had but few equals and no superiors. But when
not engaged in the chase he was phlegmatic, dull, and
sluggish. He never took any interest in the family,
just lay around — slept most of the time — and ate like an
anaconda. What meals! My mother always looked
anxious when old Sounder began to show signs of his
recurring appetite. True, one good meal would always
last the old hound a full day, sometimes two. But what
a capacity he had! It was like filling up a barrel.
There was one redeeming feature, however, about old
Sounder's eating; he was not fussy. He would eat
anything — bones, scraps, parings, peelings — just so it
was bulky and would fill him up. Then he would find
some quiet corner in the wood house or barn and sleep
off his gastronomic orgy. He was utterly useless as a
wat<jh dog: "Let 'em pilfer," he would seem to say.
"It's no affair of mine, and besides, I'm sleepy." Then
he would roll his heavy lids over his sad, sunken eyes
and promptly go to sleep again.
But when it came to hunting coons at night, old
Sounder was in his element. It was then he really
lived ; at other times he merely vegetated. And what a
coon fighter he was ! And don't get the impression
that a big he-coon can't put up a good, stiff fight. They
are vicious and terrible fighters when once cornered.
Their long, stiletto claws have put more than one good
dog out of business, their stabs and gashes proving, in
some cases, all but fatal. A coon fight was always a
possibility at the end of the hunt.
So when old Sounder awoke the echoes of the
Coox HrNTiNu 211
Autumn night by announcing a hot trail we wore all
a-quiver with excitement. We could already visualize
the early morning meal prepared in the woods while
waiting for dawn and the shake-dowm of the coon after
the rays of the morning sun had revealed the contents
of the tree; and later, the spectacular battle with the
I majored in coon hunting in my middle teens after
I had begun to chum with Charley Simpson and Albert
Burson, neighbor boys of about my own age. Charley
Simpson was the only son of widow Simpson who lived
a little beyond the bend of the road above our house,
while Albert Burson's home stood just this side of Dan
Hunt's cabin and about two hundred feet back from the
road. These two boys were my constant companions
during my coon hunting days. Charley Simpson was a
famous climber. He could climb any tree that grew.
For this reason he was the most valuable member of our
party, for to him fell the job of climbing the tree and
shaking out the coon. Albert Burson was rather timid,
a poor sport but a good al fresco cook. At least we
thought so at the time, and to him we always entrusted
the preparation of the chicken, the potatoes, and the
"roasting ears" of corn, for the nocturnal meal.
Meantime old Sounder led us a merry chase through
thicket and copse, along the edge of the corn fields and
across the Big Ditch into the Big Woods. Now if he
succeeded in treeing before we got beyond our depth
into this extensive primeval forest it would be fortunate,
for at night we always lost our bearings, and even an bl;;
212 The Swamps
boys we hesitated to venture too far into this dismal
domain. On the other hand to tree in the Big Woods
had this advantage : we could do as we pleased here —
cut timber, build fires, camp and cook — and there was
no one to say us nay. This did not apply to certain
other timber lands owned by the local farmers, for by
this time trees were beginning to take on a definite value
and were not to be destroyed by wanton coon hunters.
More than once have we been driven out of private
woods by the owner when we had treed one or more
coons in a valuable oak, or ash, or maple and were
waiting for daylight to obtain our quarry. Of course
we never cut the tree unless the coon was in a hole, but
old Sounder's deep, bass voice carried for miles and
everybody in the neighborhood knew it, and more than
one farmer round about had discovered on the morning
following one of these midnight concerts, a v^aluable
tree lying prone on the ground, a victim of our vandal
But in the Big Woods all this was different. No
one knew exactly who owned the Big Woods — only
vaguely that it belonged to some public official who
never appeared upon his property, and apparently who
never concerned himself about its care. The farmers
round about turned their superfluous cows and pigs and
sheep into the Big Woods in the spring, and allowed
them to remain there till fall when a general round-up
Ah, at last old Sounder has changed his deep musical
roll to the sharp staccato notes of the "tree," and not far
Coon Hunting 213
into the woods at that. This suits us exactly, and we
soon make our way to where the hound is circling the
base of a big, moss-grown oak. It is but little after
two o'clock — the hunt started at midnight — and two
hours to tree is a very creditable record for old Sounder.
The hound, now that we have reached him, becomes
calm, for he knows the program as well as we, and after
we have started a crackling fire consents to lie down
before it and rest up for the fight that he suspects is
pretty certain to follow.
Meanwhile we have sent out our foraging scouts.
Albert Burson remains at the tree to keep up the fire
and prepare for the meal. Charley Simpson is dis-
patched for roasting ears and potatoes, while it falls to
my lot to secure a chicken.
We never took chickens from other than our own
folks, and while our parents knew that we boys were
in the habit of robbing their hen roosts for these early
morning meals they could never prove it, and, after all,
they seemed inclined to be lenient with us. Once father
mentioned it to me and began to upbraid me. But I
was ready for him. On more than one occasion he had
related in my presence his own experience in coon
hunting when he was a boy at home in the hills. And
he never failed to stress the feed that always occurred
sometime during the night. He would chuckle, too,
when he described how he would sneak back to the homo
hen roost and "lift" a fat chicken from the perch. This
made a deep impression on me; it was the most thrilling
part of the story. Xow this voluntary information
214 The Swamps
served me in good stead. I promptly reminded him
"Well, boys will be boys," he concluded rather
lamely, I thought, and then continued, stimulating
sternness, "But remember, you are to confine your
depredations to your own hen roosts; and take turns,
too, among the boys. Don't take more from one roost
I assured him on this point and he never mentioned
the subject again.
In half an hour I was hurrying down the lane
towards the Big Woods with a nice plump spring
chicken that had fed peacefully and profitably all
summer on the fat of the land. Its passing had been
painless and, of necessity, quiet; its troubles were now
over as it lay in the majesty of death in my arms. I
never relished killing a chicken, and after the deed was
over I had to call up every excuse at my command to
quiet my qualms of conscience. It was thus as I walked
down the lane under the quiet stars of the early morning
with this still warm pullet in my arms. I have often
wished I didn*t possess this trait, for it has made me
uncomfortable, not to say acutely unhappy, at times.
But I reasoned, it's the appointed destiny of all chickens
and then added the corollary that in the present case the
deceased had already lived the happiest days of a
chicken's life, would know none of the pain and priva-
tion of suffering in the shipper's coop, nor the rigors
of a coming winter; that, upon the whole, I had
rendered it a signal service and that the soul of the
Coon HrxTixo 315
bird ought to sing my eternal praise in the realm of
While thus engaged in salving my conscience I noted
the faint glow above the tree tops that marked the loca-
tion of Albert's fire. He had been arranging the
preliminaries for the feast. When I arrived Charley
had returned with half a dozen roasting ears from a
late patch of corn of his own growing, and with his
pockets filled with potatoes from his own garden. The
corn was still "in the milk" and just right for roasting;
the potatoes fresh from the hill and in fine condition
for baking in the ashes under the live coals.
By the light of the fire we skinned the chicken.
Great rolls of yellow fat proved how well the bird had
fared during its short but pleasant life. Albert had
lighted a flare while Charley and I were away and
located a nearby pool of water. After being skinned
and drawn the bird was trussed with green spice wood
skewers. It was then thoroughly rinsed in the pool
of water. Meantime the fire had died down to
a great heap of glowing coals. The roasting ears
with their husks still on were now buried with the
washed potatoes under a deep layer of ashes, over which
we spread a bed of live coals. Next the chicken was
spitted on a long green hickory whip. Two forked
sticks were then stuck into the ground, one on either
side of the fire. Into these forks the stick on which
the cliicken was transfixed was laid. This brought the
carcass of the bird directly over the heap of glowing
coals. Albert, the cook, now took up a position at one
216 The Swamps
end of the stick and slowly began to revolve the chicken
over the red coals. In a short time the fat started to
drip on the coals. It sputtered and assailed the nostrils
with the most seductive odor. Even old Sounder turned
his big sad eyes longingly in the direction of the source
of the odor. We tried to beguile away the time in
stimulating talk that would take our thoughts from the
tempting odor. But to little purpose. We speculated
about the quarry up the tree and wondered if there
was but one coon or more. Often coons ran in pairs;
sometimes more. I remember on one occasion the
morning light revealed five old ringtails disposed about
the branches of a tall oak in Ben I^orth's woods. And
worst of all Charley Simpson had only shaken out two
when old Ben came snorting through the woods towards
us with blood in his eye, and we fled precipitately
leaving three of the coons in the tree.
Thus we passed the time while tlie carcass on the
spit gradually turned to a rich brown color and the
odor grew more and more intoxicating.
*^*I think it's done, fellers," Albert announced as he
thrust a sharpened stick into the breast. That suited
us to a T. **Test the corn and potatoes."
Charley raked an ear of corn and a potato from the
ashes. The potatoes were soft and the corn steaming
in the moisture of its own husk.
"Potatoes are done," I announced.
"So is the corn," Charley said.
"All right, let's eat," said the cook. "Throw some
brush on the coals for light."
Coon Hunting 217
lu a few moments our jack knives were car\'ing the
bird — a leg to one, a breast to another, a wing to the
third. The corn was stripped of its shucks, the potatoes
laid on leaves to cool, and the meal began.
Does time exaggerate the acuteness of our taste;
would such a meal at the present time seem tasteless
and insipid? I cannot say, but as I recall these
nocturnal feasts served at the foot of the coon tree, in
my boyhood days, they seem to surpass in deliciousness
and savor, any gustatory joy that has since fallen to
my palate. I can see my companions now as they sat
around the crackling fire. Old Sounder refreshed from
his run and his appetite whetted by the savory odors
now stands nearby and with his massive jaws crunches
the tender bones of the bird as we industriously strip
them of the flesh and toss them in his direction. The
dark woods about us stand sharply silhouetted between
the night beyond and the flame in our midst. Some-
times we peered into the gloom and would fain make
out the gleaming eyes of a bear or a wolf. Then some-
one would relate a story of the days — days, alas, we
never knew — when our forebears had many a thrilling
experience with these denizens of the deep forest.
Thus the time passed till daylight. How anxiously
we peered into the top of the tree as the first streaks of
dawn filtered through the branches! We would circle
round and round as it grew lighter examining with
microscopic care each shadow that the increasing light
might later prove to be a coon. These were exciting
moments. It was a kind of pime now — who would see
218 The Swamps
a coon first. I always had sharp eyes. I could see
farther and make out objects quicker than most boys.
Charley and Albert knew this and always pooled their
vision in an effort to beat me. Sometimes they would
announce confidently that they saw the coon. In reality
they did not, but took a chance that the vague object
designated would turn out to be the coon. And once,
as chance would have it, it did. By previous arrange-
ment they both declared a certain dark object in the
top of the tree was the coon. They confessed afterward
it was merely a guess. But in this case it was a good
guess and for the time I conceded them the honor of
discovering the coon first.
"There's old Ringtail now," I finally announced
though I was not quite certain that a better light would
prove me right.
"Where?" Charley and Albert asked in unison.
"Right up there lying in the fork of the limbs almost
in the top of the tree — the forks at the south side of the
"I don't see it," Charley said.
"It's a bunch of moss," Albert contended.
"Wait and see," I said, "It's a coon all right." I
had seen it move and I was now sure of my ground.
The coming dawn now rapidly lighted up the top of
the tree. Leaves were still thick, but the morning was
clear ; visibility was good.
"By the great horned moon if I don't see another
Coon Htntixcj 219
This aiinouucement was received with considerable
"Yes, you do!" Charley exclaimed sarcastically.
"Just wait and see; you fellers are owl-eyed in
"Where is it?" asked Albert.
"Just above the other one — about six feet — in the
highest crotch of the tree."
"By the old gray goose he's right, Charley. I can
see his eyes; he's looking down at us, and he's almost as
big as the other one."
Charley finally saw him. As the light became
stronger both coons could be plainly seen.
"What will we do," I asked, "cut the tree or climb?"
It was a big oak and hard to climb. It was up to
Charley to say whether he could climb it or not. He
moved around the tree. He examined the arrangement
of the limbs carefully. We awaited his decision.
"An awful job to cut that tree," he finally
announced. Then after another look at the trunk he
continued: "It's a big butt, too, and hard to climb."
He approached the trunk and placed his arms about it.
They did not half encircle it. Then : "I can climb it if
we can get a length of grapevine."
"We'll see if we can find one."
Albert and I began looking through the nearby
thicket for a wild grapevine.
"Here's a good one." Albert finally announced.
"Is your barlow knife sharp?''
220 The Swamps
"Theu come and cut the vine; mine's as dull as a
We cut about ten feet of the strong, green vine and
brought it to Charley who had already pulled off his
boots and coat. He took one end of the vine in his
right hand I took the other and moved around the tree
to Charley's other hand. Charley grasped this end of
the vine. In this manner he encircled the tree. By
slipping the section of the vine up along the trunk of
the tree, then toe-nailing to the rough bark with his
feet he reached the lowest limb, about twenty feet from
the ground. Here he rested.
"Got your knife, Charley?" I asked, for sometimes
the coon would dispute the possession of the tree in
which event a knife comes in handy. In answer
Charley opened his knife and stuck it through his
gallowses. "It's sharp all right; I never go after a
coon Avithout a sharp knife. It come in mighty handy
once. You remember, Sheridan, that old he-coon last
fall that come after me that night in Eli Charleston's
"You bet I do, and there was no fight left in him
after the stab you gave him. Old Sounder merely
snuffed at him when he reached the ground, then rolled
him over with a push of his nose. The coon was already
JS'ow that Charley had reached the limbs, he found
climbing easy. The limbs grew close together and
Charley ascended them like going up the rungs of a
ladder. In a little while he was within reach of the
Coox Hunting 221
lower coon. But the sullen old Ringtail seemed loath
to move, only growled as Charley approached. Then
Charley cut a branch from the oak and prodded the
coon. With a sudden spring it leaped on Charles's
back. But not to attack him. It merely used Charley';;
back as a means of passing down the tree. It was a
big coon — both were big, and as sometimes happens,
both were "hes."
The dislodged coon descended the tree to the lowest
limb. On this he crawled out till the branch bent
down towards the ground. But he didn't jump;
Charley had to descend to the limb.
Old Sounder was now fully aroused. He didn't
bark; only waited with tense muscles and an unusual
brilliancy in his ordinarily dull and listless eyes. I
think he knew he had a hard fight before him.
"Don't get out too far on that limb, Charley," I
warned, "It is not strong; there are dead branches on
it; it may be partly rotten." I didn't speak too soon,
for with a loud snap the branch broke and fell to the
ground. Fortunately Charley was quick enough to
grab the stub of the broken branch and cling to the
tree. We gave a sigh of relief when we saw that
Charley was safe. He reached for the next limb and
was soon securely seated in the crotch.
In our anxiety over Charley's safety we had not
noticed the coon. But old Sounder had, and was now
engaged in a terrific fight with the big he-coon. The
coon was still in the branches of the bough that had
broken and fallen with him to the ground. Because
222 The Swamps
of this protection the coon held the advantage over
the dog. The limb was of considerable size and its
spread formed a fairly good protection for the coon.
Sounder could reach in the brush with difficulty. When-
ever the hound came within range, the ringtail would
shoot out a paw and rip open the hide of the hound;
already his long ears were bleeding profusely.
"Take him, Sounder, take him," I urged, and he
snarled and lunged viciously into the brush after the
coon. I patted him and again urged him to rush the
coon. With one leap he landed squarely on the coon's
back. For a single instant there was a blur of brush,
and dog, and leaves, and coon. There was an agonized
groan. Then the action became less violent, and finally,
with the coon limply depending from his massive jaws
old Sounder emerged from the debris and welter of the
battle. The coon, a mammoth male, lay dead at the
root of the tree. But at a severe cost to the old hound.
He was half blinded by his bloody ears. He was deeply
scratched about the head and shoulders. Albert filled
his felt hat with water at the pool and with this we
bathed his wounds thoroughly. At length the bleeding
But what of the other coon still up the tree? It
seemed a trifle smaller than the one just dispatched,
but it was a big coon nevertheless.
Charley now worked his way to the neighborhood
of the second coon. It was in the topmost branches
and seemed greatly excited. Its eyes blazed like balls
of fire as it moved about from branch to branch. The
Coon Hintixcj 223
killing of Lis companion had aroused the remaining
coon to a state of frenzy. He looked dangerous.
"Be careful, Charley/' we warned. "That coon
"I know it ; can you hear him growl ?"
We could and it sounded vicious.
"Do you think I can make him jump?"
"Don't know, but be ready with your knife if he
springs on you."
Charley was cautious. Several times the enraged
coon made as if he meant to attack Charley. But
Charley drew his knife from his gallowses and was
prepared for him.
Then the coon sprang to a lower limb almost half
way down the tree. Here he crouched again in a
defiant mood. Old Sounder though evidently still
suffering from his cuts was again duly wrought up for
the second encounter. His blood-shot eyes gleamed
with a wicked light. He followed every motion of the
coon with tense muscles and stiffened tail. As Charley
descended the tree the coon slowly moved out towards
the end of the branch. Charley followed. This limb
was green and tough. It seemed to be safe, and Charley
approached to within a few feet of the snarling coon.
Then the coon jumped. Old Sounder was ready for
him. Xo sooner had he touched ground than the hound
was upon him. But the coon was quick and for the
time eluded old Sounder's jaws. He started to run
and the dog made after him. In a moment the dog
had overtaken him. The coon made a stand against the
224 The Swamps
butt of a nearby tree. Every time tbe big hound came
within striking distance, the coon would rear up on his
hind legs and strike out viciously with his fore paws.
The hound's head and ears were again bleeding. This
sparring went on for some time. Then I drew near the
hound. Again I urged him to attack; to rush in and
tackle. Thus encouraged, old Sounder sprang upon
the coon. It was now soon over. The coon was done
for, though the hound did not come through unscathed.
Again we bathed his head and eyes. Charley slid down
the tree, and we laid the two ringtails side by side.
They were magnificent specimens, and in fine condition.
"Give Me Libeety"
Perhaps it was my uncle John who first gave me the
idea of self assertion. This uncle, because of my grand-
father Deidrick's second marriage to a young wife, was
but a year or two older than myself. He was an only
son by this second wife, and as often happens under
these circumstances, he was a privileged character.
2^ow John — because of our almost even ages I
never used his avuncular title — in my estimation was
a hero, and I tried to imitate whatever he did. True,
my mother often pointed out to me that while her half
brother was a bright, lovable boy, still she was afraid
his lack of discipline would result in his utter ruination.
This, however, didn't concern me greatly; what
fascinated me most in John^s makeup was his masterful
leadership. Whatever he undertook he excelled in.
He was resourceful and always considerate. Besides,
he was good looking, and notwithstanding my mother's
prediction I don't believe he was ever spoiled, though
just what effect his utter lack of restraint at home
would have had on his later character was never known,
for he had scarcely reached his majority when he
sickened and died.
But in my middle teens John was my ideal and
we were much together. We went squirrel hunting and
shot quails over the stubble together, and spent many a
Sunday afternoon together when my parents went home
226 The Swamps
with grandfather Deidrick from church for dinner.
Grandfather Deidrick lived in the hills and several
miles away from our home. But I have often trudged
that distance on a late Saturday afternoon when my
parents gave me permission to spend the night with
John. What rare occasions were these!
"We'll go to the party at Hoagland's together, to-
night," John would say in the most matter-of-fact
manner. Or, maybe, he would mention a protracted
meeting miles away or some party or social gathering
of which I knew nothing whatever. John always
seemed to know every event of interest within a wide
circle, and he generally went to them all. Seldom was
he at home at night.
"Oh, I never ask Dad, I'm old enough to take care
of myself. I'm not one of them sissies that are always
tied to their mother's apron strings."
What a boy! What independence! How I envied
The more I thought of my servile condition the
stronger I grew in the conviction that I must assert
myself. "How could any boy," I reasoned, "have any
self respect when he had to ask his parents for per-
mission to go out at night ?" This humiliation must be
removed. The sooner I took my parents in hand and
gave them to understand that these bonds had to be
broken the better it would be for all parties concerned.
Of course I anticipated friction, and knowing my
father to be a strict disciplinarian, I was sure he would
be stubborn. But it had to be done ; to put it ofF longer
"Give Me Liberty'' 227
would only be temporizing. Why not face the issue
and bring the matter up at once? Once I made up
my mind I was anxious to have the disagreeable
experience over. I was prepared for opposition, but I
was determined to be firm. I thought I could reason
with my mother, but my father had very set and definite
ideas as to his children's obedience. I knew them
pretty well. I felt a little anxious when I pictured the
contest with my father.
But I thought it would be worthwhile even if the
experience might prove a little disagreeable while the
contest was on.
In this frame of mind I learned that there was to
be an "Exhibition" at the Sharpsville school on the
coming Thursday night. At these country school
exhibitions a mixed program was presented, usually
consisting of a short play, songs, recitations and what-
not varying with the material at hand and the prefer-
ences of the teacher. They were popular with the
several district schools in the neighborhood, and the
older children of the community usually attended,
accompanied, of course, by their elders. As a rule I,
myself, went to these exhibitions but always with one
or both of my parents. Since they were held at night,
we children were not expected to tramp the two or three
miles over country roads, often alongside dark woods,
to the schoolhouse without the company of our parents
or some other older members of the family. Nor did
we really care to do it alone. I remember keeping
pretty close to the heels of my father and within the
228 The Swamps
light of the lantern which he carried when passing a
lonely stretch of road and feeling pretty glad that I
was within the shadow of his wing. Any boy of my
age that would tramp the roads at night by himself was
tempting fate. That was one reason I looked upon
John Deidrick as a hero ; he did all these things almost
nightly and thought nothing of it. He always scorned
danger. He could ride the most fractious colt in the
neighborhood and out- run and out- jump any boy in
the township. And he never knew fear. Why should
he not become my hero ? His lack of parental restraint,
I reasoned, must surely account for this outstanding
fearlessness and prowess. I would start to follow his
example at once; I would stalk off to the school exhibi-
tion at Sharpsville on the coming Thursday night
without saying a word to my parents.
It was in the late spring, the last exhibition of the
school term, and the weather was warm and balmy.
This suited my purpose, for in case I had to remain
out all night I could sleep in the haymow; as a matter
of fact I had planned to stay out all night. John had
on occasions, and why not I?
Thursday night arrived and after supper I slipped
into the bedroom while my mother was engaged in
washing the dishes. Here I nervously dressed. Father
was engaged at the bam and I seized this opportunity
to get away unobserved. I did not wish to distress my
mother unduly so as I hurried through the kitchen I
told her I was going to the school exhibition at Sharps-
ville, and would not be back that night. I can see her
"Give Me Liberty" 229
utter amazement at the startling announcement. She
almost dropped the plate she was drying, and for a
moment did not speak.
"But Sheridan," she finally gasped, "You haven't
asked to go; your father ."
I did not want to argue. I knew under the
persuasive reasoning of my mother I would be lost;
my coveted liberty would vanish into thin air.
Especially as I was never unduly restrained, and was
allowed all reasonable requests to go any of the places
I desired. It was not that I was denied any of these
things; I was striving for a principle, to establish a
precedent; I wanted to throw off the yoke of my
thraldom and be as independent as John Deidrick.
I hurried from my mother's presence, but as I left
I caught the pained expression on her face and had
some difficulty in forgetting it. I now saw that I must
be strong and manly. Continually I had to keep my
hero before me.
At length I arrived at the schoolhouse. Several
kerosene lamps within threw from each of the four
windows fan-shaped shafts of light that dimly revealed
the hard, tramped earth around the outside of the plain,
Xo sooner had I entered than several of the boys
who knew me asked in unison : "Where's your folks ;
didn't come alone, did you?"
"Sure," T replied, summoning up all the nonchalance
at my command, "Don't think I'm going to be a sissy
all my life do you?"
230 The Swamps
Immediately I was transformed in their sight. I
could see a look of amazed adoration spread over their
"IsTot any older than me," one of thera presently
"Maybe not," I replied. Then continued with a
labored attempt at braggadocio, "but what's that got
to do with it; some fellers are always sissies, and some
hain't. There's John Deidrick ."
I carried off the bluff pretty well and one of the
fellers asked if he could "set" next to me when the
show commenced; and several hung close around. I
heard whispering behind my back. I could catch
snatches of the conversation. "Sheridan don't have to
ask to go places anymore," one of them said; and
another replied : "He's no older than I am, shouldn't
think his paw would let him go gaddin' about where
That was the question in my mind — would my "paw"
let me? I pondered the subject all through the per-
formance. I didn't pay much attention to the exhibi-
tion. I remember after a song by the school there
were some pieces spoken, and then came the play.
These plays were not so bad. I was in one myself in
later years. I remember it well. It was Enoch Arden
and I was assigned the part of the returned husband,
who, looking in through the window of his home dis-
covered his wife happily married to another and in the
bosom of her family sitting around the evening lamp —
obviously a happy family with children and infinite
"Give Me Liberty'' 231
peace in the picture. And while I stood outside the
window I vowed never to disclose my identity — every
one had thought me dead — and to allow this happy
family to go on to the end, and I — to suffer in silence.
How sorry the audience would feel for me !
These were the melodramatic plays we acted.
Something of that nature was on that night, the night
I took the daring stand for liberty.
Finally the program dragged through to the end,
and the schoolhouse disgorged its perspiring audience
into the cool embrace of the night. I had company a
part of the way home. Some of the parents asked me
if the folks were sick. "Oh, no," I answered indifferent-
ly, "they're all right." I could see they were puzzled.
It was not like George and 'Lizbeth to allow their
children to go traipesing off to entertainments alone.
I saw they did not regard the move with favor. It was
establishing a bad precedent. Their own children
might demand a like liberty.
The last of the party dropped out as we proceeded
on our way home, and I was left alone. Sharpsville
was north of the Big Woods, and my way now lay
along the edge of this considerable forest to the lane
that ran past Jack Kling's cabin up to our house. I
was very nervous as I skirted the Big Woods. An owl
suddenly hooted nearby. I jumped. "Ah, shucks !" I
said to myself, "I know you, you old popeye; can't
scare me." Still I wished John Deidrick could have
been along. I felt a little jumpy. When I passed Jack
Kling's cabin I had a great desire to go in and creep
232 The Swamps
into the bunk with him. Was I weakening? J^ever!
I trudged bravely on.
I entered our yard through the back gate. All was
silent and dark within. I thought of my comfortable
bed with the log cabin quilt. I denied myself the
pleasure of these thoughts. The battle had just begun.
I must not swerve from my program. I said I wouldn't
be home, and I meant it.
I went to the barn and opened the door. A white
chicken fluttered from beneath my feet. Again I
jumped violently. Again I had to reason with myself.
I climbed to the haymow and burroAved into the hay.
It was dreadfully lonesome and uncomfortable. A rat
scurried over the hay near my head. Old Fan kept
pawing the floor of the stable. I couldn't sleep. I was
desperately sleepy but wide awake. I didn't sleep a
wink all night.
Then a big rooster perched on the partition between
the stalls of the stable, flapped his wings and crowed
lustily. The first streaks of dawn came through the
cracks of the haymow. I crawled out from the hay
and prepared to descend the ladder to the floor below.
I was stiff and uncomfortable. Uncomfortable ? I was
acutely miserable. I was hungry. I hoped quietly to
pass to the house before the folks were up and get into
the summer kitchen. I could get some bread and butter
there and, maybe, a piece of cooked ham. In this I
succeeded and found something to eat. I put a piece
of bread and some slices of ham into my pockets for
lunch. I was just coming out of this summer kitchen
'*GiVE Me Liberty" 233
when my father opened the back door of the house. He
saw me. He didn't look sociable. ^'So you're back,"
he scowled. "I'll teach you to run away without asking
leave." He started for me, but I didn't wait for him.
I made for the back gate and was soon running down
the lane. He picked up a stick and hurled it after me.
It passed dangerously near my ear. I did not stop
running till I reached Malissa Xewman's woods. It
was south of the lane, half way between our house and
Jack Kling's cabin. Into this woods I turned. I was
all out of breath. My spirits sank to the lowest ebb.
I was an outcast. I longed for Tip. I hoped he would
scent my track and follow me to the woods. He slept
in the wagon shed, and I had not seen him. I wondered
where he was. In the middle of the woods I sat down
on a fallen log. I tried by every means to bolster up
my courage. I must not give up the fight. It was
for a principle. I thought of John I>eidrick. What
joy it would be to say: "Xeither do I have to ask to go
The sun now began to tip the treetops with
burnished silver. I thought of my mother. She would
now be setting the bacon and eggs on the table; maybe
hot biscilits with honey, too. I began to question the
wisdom of my course. I had to think hard of John
Deidrick, and his glorious freedom. But was it so
glorious? These doubts became more and more un-
Xoon came and I munched my dry bread and ham.
What had become of the zest of eating? I dug an
234 The Swamps
edible root and ate it. It was flat and insipid. I
thought if I could have a nice broiled young rabbit it
would taste good. But how could I get a rabbit without
Tip? Old Tip! Had he gone back on me? Why
didn't he smell me and come to me?
How lonesome the woods seemed! I was sleepy,
too, but couldn't go to sleep.
The afternoon waned, and then once more the stars
came out. I was cold and hungry. Black doubts filled
my mind; numbing doubts; torturing doubts. I could
fancy my mother bowed in grief, that mother who was
always so quick to forgive. I had no desire to pain
my mother. Yet I was always doing it. At least so
it seemed to me. Clarkson never gave her any trouble.
He was content to play about the yard, or in his "drug
store." He was daffy on drugs. His store in the
corner of the wood house was filled with bottles collected
from the four corners of the neighborhood. He was
always on the lookout for any bright-colored liquid to
fill his bottles. When mother cooked any vegetable
that formed a colored juice, Clarkson always begged
enough to fill one of his drug store bottles. Silly, I
always thought forever playing drug store when there
were miles of meadow and wonderful woods to explore.
But he was wedded to drugs, and it is small wonder
that in later life he became the owner of one of the
biggest drug stores in the West. Even now I cannot
think of Clarkson except in terms of drugs. He had no
ambition to be free. He was probably taking no
"Give Me Liberty" 235
interest in my fight for liberty. All he cared for was
to originate a new shade for some bottle in his drug
store. At this very moment, in all likelihood, he was
sleeping very peacefully in the undisturbed possession
of the whole of our common bed.
I thought rapidly. My mind was in a whirl. I
was losing control of myself. Disgraced ! Couldn't
stick it out for even two nights ! I felt like a worm.
No use. The battle was lost. My morale was all
All the time I was moving towards the lane. I
couldn't help it ; I had no power over my legs, no sense
of orientation. Every step led me nearer home. Up
the lane I moved fascinated with that uncanny power
the serpent wields over a bird, fascinated with the
clump of trees that marked the sight of home, and that
now stood out darkly in the gathering night. Still a
faint voice whispered: "Is this the stuff you're made
of; is this the sort of courage you so confidently
Was I really going to surrender? Abjectly? I
closed my eyes to shut out the disgraceful picture.
"Didn't hear about Sheridan's break for liberty, did
ye?" I could hear this behind my back wherever the
fellers got together. Then a heartless laugh. "Say,
feller, that was some stunt." Then from another : "I'll
bet his paw didn't do a thing to him !"
I winced ; I cowed before these sarcastic remarks of
the bovs I knew.
236 The Swamps
But all the while my legs were slowly but surely
carrying me in the direction of home, xllmost before
I knew it I was at the back gate. Mechanically I
opened it and passed through. Presently I found
myself at the south window of the sitting room.
There was a light in the room. My father and mother
were talking — talking about me. I pressed my ear to
the wall and listened.
"I'm through with him," my father declared, "!N^o
boy of mine can defy me and stay at home. He's made
his choice ; now let him abide by it."
My mother pleaded — pleaded my youth, my volatile
temperament, my tendency to be influenced by others,
by John. Yes, John Deidrick had put mischief and
insubordination into my head. She would speak to her
half brother and forbid him to come to the house.
I began to doubt John's wisdom. My idol was
tottering; the lure of independence was fading; the joy
of self assertion was turning into ashes of regret.
"He'll come home, I know he will," my mother
vehemently declared. Then I heard something like a
sob. "And please let him stay, George, please, please."
How these words stabbed me to the heart ! All was
gone now — my pride, my courage, even the taunts of the
fellers failed to deter me. I moved around to the front
door, turned the knob and stepped inside. I stood
before my parents, trembling in every fiber of my
body. My father scowled and started towards me. My
mother arose and stood between us. Then she laid her
hand on father's arm. Somewhat of the blackness left
"Give Me Liberty'' 237
liis face. Then after a moment he turned and left the
room. I could hear him in the bedroom undressing.
My mother came to me and looked down into my
averted face. I glanced up and saw that she had been
weeping, that the last twenty-four hours had lined her
fair skin deeply. What could I say? What could 1
do ? I felt faint, was about to fall. My mother noticed
it and clasped me in her arms. She sank into a nearby
chair and I crumpled at her feet.
I was a big boy, strong and muscular, stronger than
my mother and almost as big. Yet I felt once more a
little child. I wept as I did in early childhood when
my heart was broken. Xot a word w^as said. I tried
to smother my weeping in my mother's lap.
"Come, you must be hungry, Sheridan," my mother
finally said, "Aren't you?"
"Xo, ma'am" I managed to reply, "I want to go to
I don't believe my mother ever kissed me in later
boyhood; we had an absurd aversion against growni
people kissing. But that night after I had undressed
and was still softly sobbing on my pillow she tip-toed
into my room and kissed me on the cheek — gave me a
healing kiss of forgiveness.
Of the outstanding milestones that still remain un-
blurred as I look back over the years of my childhood,
I never fail to linger for a moment — and in deep
emotion — beside the one marked: "Give me Libertv."
The Rudolphs, with few exceptions, belonged to a
religious sect indigenous to the Middle West. The
protagonist of this particular faith was a pioneer
himself, and he built the new church upon rugged and
austere fundamentals. He took as his sole creed the
New Testament. Upon this rock he built his church.
He interpreted the Bible with rigid literalness. He
regarded the Book as the inspired word of God. He
believed it could contain no error. He held that the
men who made it were but instruments in God's hand,
and that they could make no mistake. He made no
allowance for variant words or phrases in translating
the Bible from Greek into English. If the Word said
white in English it came white from the mouth of God.
He looked upon King James' version of the Bible as
the only true version ; as the sole means of grace and
the one narrow and rugged road to life everlasting.
There were many arguments in favor of such a
creed. Xone of man's invention entered into the
service. We quoted directly from the printed Word
for every act or ordinance of the church ; we subscribed
to no ritual save the New Testament. If the disciples
of Christ met to break bread on the first day of the
week, so did we. When John went down into the
water and baptized in the open, under the dome of high
heaven itself, that was the form of baptism we adopted.
240 The Swamps
If the Holy Spirit was not visible in the form of a dove
when it descended on the new-born, through baptism,
we believed it came nevertheless. If we were not
baptized upon the confession of our sins in the ancient
river, Jordan, we simulated the ordinance as nearly as
possible, with the means at hand, by seeking out and
using the deepest swimming hole in the nearby creek.
Even in winter when ice had first to be removed in
order to permit baptism I have witnessed these immer-
sions. Nor did the most delicate devotee ever hesitate
to go through with the trying experience. They seemed
rather to glory in it. No one of the faith thought, for
a moment, that the ducking in midwinter would result
in any physical harm. They didn't believe that God
would allow harm to come to His people when engaged
in any act of service to Him. And so far as record
or personal knowledge went, no harm ever did happen
We were not baptized as infants. "Suffer them to
come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the
kingdom of heaven." Then little children were sinless.
They had no sins to be remitted; there was no need to
But as we advanced in years we accumulated sin on
the way. There came a point where something had
to be done; when our sin had to be washed away.
When we came to the parting of the ways, we had to
choose between the broad primrose path that led to
perdition and the straight and narrow way that led to
the battlements of heaven. This was a dramatic
Getting Religion 241
moment in the life of the young. The sect always
discouraged using undue or minatory influence in
bringing the young people into the fold; mostly tears
and prayers, and always in secret. Our parents never
^'nagged" us about joining church. It was dead against
their policy. But we always knew if we passed our
teens without confessing our sins and joining the church
our parents in secret were weeping for us, and praying
for our salvation. But they found no fault, nor asked
us directly to join the church. On the other hand they
were especially considerate of us. Occasionally tears
would come to their eyes in our presence. But seldom.
They avoided heroics that would tend to prejudice a
healthy-minded boy or girl against religion. Usually
this attitude finally bore the coveted fruit. Rarely did
a young Rudolph pass his majority without coming
safely into the fold. This may have been done in some
cases to please our parents, but in most instances I
think we truly believed it was necessary to save our
souls from the wrath to come.
These convictions of sin in the youth of the land
came sometimes with dramatic suddenness. It did in
my own case. Up to this period of spiritual awakening
I had never concerned myself seriously about the state
of my soul. I went to church because it was expected
of me, and, besides, it was an agreeable break in the
routine of the week. Then, too, there were certain
features of the service I enjoyed. I liked the singing.
The Rudolphs were all fond of singing. Singing school
was a regular Sunday feature of the church. I can
242 The Swamps
see Ellis Smaltz now with his baton beating time as
he stood in front of the improvised blackboard, and
taught us to sing the scales. And we flattered ourselves
we could sing pretty well, too. I believe we could.
So when the congregation broke out on "Rock of Ages"
or "Old Hundred" or in Sunday School with some of
the newer, almost secular songs, I always joined in
with vigor. My voice was placed by Ellis Smaltz in
the tenor class — top line of the bass cleff. My eyes
assiduously sought out these notes, and became expert
in skipping from the words to the music and back to
the words again without missing any of the measures.
All of this was very pleasant on Sunday, not to
mention the visiting in the latter part of the day with
my cousins of various degrees.
But the "message" always fell on deaf ears so far as
I was concerned. Of course, sometime, in the indefiaite
future I meant to join church and live a Christian life.
But so far, my sin did not oppress me, and I found life
a most delightful adventure. It was heaven enough for
me just to live. My robust health and love of nature
was all that I desired. I didn't crave anything better.
Then why should I concern myself about a future life?
The present was all sufficient for my complete happi-
But a boy's emotions — his psychic manifestations —
are apt to be very deep and compelling; they sometimes
erupt in a most spectacular manner. In youth he takes
his convictions and abstractions far more seriously and
dramatically than he takes them in later life. They
Getting Religion 243
come to him with overwhelming force. His mind is so
plastic that they change the whole aspect of his outlook
on life. They obsess him, they sometimes crush him
utterly. Under their influence he is apt to do some
It was with these dominating emotions that a con-
viction of sin came upon my carefree soul. I did not
reason it out, nor could I attribute it to any definite
influence. It just seemed to suddenly come to me.
This strange mood seized me in the early part of the
week, Tuesday morning, if I mistake not. I got up
that morning under a cloud. Suddenly all the world
seemed dull and somber. I realized this change with
a sinking heart. Tip greeted me as usual, smiling and
wagging his tail friendly fashion. Mechanically I put
out my hand and patted his head. But it was a dead
hand. The world was a dead world. The trees and
fields became the monuments of my dead self. I was
in the valley of dry bones and death. I scarcely
touched my breakfast. My mother noticed it and
looked anxious. She thought it was dyspepsia; I
thought it was despair.
"What's the matter, Sheridan, are you sick?"
"No," I answered listlessly, "not that I know of."
She put her hand on my forehead. "I think you
are all right. Take Tip and go for a walk."
I started aimlessly for the woods. Tip timidly
followed me. He had never seen me in this mood, and
didn't know what to make of it. In the woods I sat
244 The Swamps
down and leaned against a tree. Tip sniffed about but
did not leave me far. I think he thought I would bear
watching. Poor old Tip ! I remember feeling sorry
for him. He missed my usual ebullient spirit, and he
was suffering. I moped about all day. It was that
night while tossing in my bed that the explanation of
my mood came to me. My sin was finding me out. I
was a sinner and God was warning me of my lost
Yes, that was it. It all seemed plain to me now.
With this discovery I became acutely miserable; I
was lost — eternally lost. There was but one thing to
do; I must confess my sins before all men, repent and
And this was only Tuesday. I could not be saved
until the next Sunday — nearly a week away. Suppose
I should die in the meantime and go to hell; to burn
and sizzle forever in a lake of burning brimstone! I
could already feel the hot stifling fumes of the burning
sulphur against my feverish cheek. My concern was
now changed to a condition bordering on panic.
Because of this new-found fear I tossed all night long.
The next morning my haggard face attracted my
mother's attention. She looked worried.
"Sheridan, boy, whatever is the matter? Are you
My father had gone to work and we were in the
"sitting room" alone. I had better tell her all — the
oppression of sin, perhaps unforgivable sin. I had
thought of this, the unpardonable sin. We had been
Getting Religion 245
taught that tliere was an unpardonable sin though just
what it was, was never clear to me. I don't believe it
was ever quite settled even among the preachers; they
never seemed to agree upon what it exactly was. But
the belief was strong nevertheless that there was an
unpardonable sin. And this thought had occurred to
me, that I had committed the unpardonable sin, and
that there was no hope for me. I reasoned that no
ordinary sin could so sorely distress my soul, could
cause me so to suffer. My theology was assuming
hysterical aspects. I thought of my past life, my un-
redeemed and sinful life. My misdemeanors assumed
black and sodden shades. In my overwrought mind I
went over all the "Thou shalt nots." I decided I had
broken all of them ; if not in deed in thought. I knew
I had actually violated some of them. Had I not stolen
old Biddie's eggs ? Did I not covet the picture book ?
My mother suspected that my mood might be due
to some mental perturbation. She had brought up two
other boys. I was at the age when these psychic
impressions might take on absurd exaggeration; even
tragic. It required careful diplomacy. It demanded
unquestioned confidence. For aw^hile she sat silent.
Then she came over to my side and laid her hand on
"Sheridan, son," she began, "is there anything
I knew I must make a clean breast of it all. It
was no time for deception. The salvation of my soul
was at stake.
246 The Swamps
Breaking down utterly I sank to my knees and
buried my face in my mother's lap. She stroked my
**You can trust mother, Sheridan."
And then sobbing almost hysterically, at times, I
told her the whole story. She did not interrupt me
until I had finished; only gently stroked my head.
Then she tried to sooth me, to comfort me. She told
me that God was good, that He did not hold sin against
His children; that I was not as bad as I thought; that
I had in the main been a good boy and that all would
"But suppose I should die before next Sunday?'' I
"You have already confessed your sins; God has
heard you. He has promised to forgive us our sins."
"But I have not been baptized?"
"In spirit you have, besides next Sunday will soon
For a long time we remained together, my mother
explaining and comforting me as best she could. In a
measure I was calmed, but not entirely. I dreaded
each night when darkness enveloped me in my sinful
state. I counted the days and hours till Sunday. That
night after retiring I heard my parents discussing my
case. They thought I was asleep.
"He is very nervous," my mother said, "and he
thinks he is a lost sinner. Of course, he is unduly
concerned, but don't make fun of him. It's the turning
Getting Religion 247
point in his religious life. Please don't say anything
that would hurt him."
"But why does the boy take it so hard?"
"Well, you know," my mother replied, "that's
Sheridan's nature; he always takes things that way.
Of course, he's no worse than any other normal boy,
but he thinks he has been a great sinner. We must not
laugh at him." Then after a few moments my mother
continued. "He's afraid the preacher won't be at
church on Sunday, or if he is, he won't come prepared
to baptize him. Sheridan wants to be baptized the
same day he joins the church. He wants you to ride
over to Wein to see the preacher in person."
"That's silly," my father replied with some show
"I know it is, but I tell you Sheridan is in a very
nervous state. We must humor him-, you'd better go
My father grumbled and pleaded that he couldn't
spare the time.
"What's a day to a boy's peace of mind?"
My father finally consented. I slept some that
The next morning my father was very kind to me.
He encouraged me to eat some breakfast. "Eat, lad,"
he said, "I'm going over to see the preacher today; I'll
tell him to come prepared to baptize you next Sunday.
Your mother told me; I don't think you will regret it,
boy." This with infinite tenderness. He put his arms
248 The Swamps
about me as he was leaving for the horseback ride to
Weill. I Avas immeasurably comforted.
My little brother, Clarkson, had noticed the change
in me and was puzzled.
"He's going to join church next Sunday," my
mother explained, and I immediately became glorified
in my brother's eyes. All the rest of that week
Clarkson's face in my presence wore an expression of
Then Saturday night came, and at last Sunday
morning. With what joy I greeted that bright Sunday
morning! I think I framed a special prayer that
morning thanking the "Giver of all Good Gifts" for
having preserved my life till then.
I prepared my morning toilet with great care —
with an air of reverence. It all seemed like a dream
to me. I moved about the familiar scenes of home in
a detached mood. I was no longer the carefree boy
of last week. I had been touched by the power of the
Creator and transformed.
The church seemed transformed too, transformed
from the comfortable brick-and-mortar building to a
holy temple, the abode of the Deity. Still in a dream
I followed my father on the men's side to the third pew
from the pulpit. I had asked my father to go up front.
Here we sat through the sermon. I don't remember
what it was all about. I was still in a fervor, a
Getting Kelioion 249
Then came the communion. Xext Sunday I would
join in the celebration of the Lord's Supper. I couldn't
quite realize that ; I didn't try. I just waited.
Now I knew the stage was set for me. Soon I
would arise from my seat and go forward. When in
the past I saw other young people present themselves
to the church I wondered how they felt. I couldn't
quite imagine it. Now I knew. They didn't feel ; they
were in a numbed state of exaltation. They were spirit,
and didn't feel.
The first verse of the last hymn was finished, and
at the beginning of the next, still in a dream, I arose
from my seat and moved to the platform on which
the preacher stood. He took my hand and smiled,
and bade me be seated on the front pew. The hymn
continued, and I studied old Billy Claire's face —
"Brother Billy" as we lovingly called him. The
preacher was above the average country minister in
education and ability. I always liked his sermons,
especially after I grew older. They were such calm,
dispassionate, scholarly sermons. I liked Brother
Billy; I was glad he was to baptize me. He was tall,
muscular, dependable. He was the author of a book,
yes, a real printed book. It lay on our sitting-room
table. I often read from it, and while the subject was
of a polemical character far above my head, still there
was something pleasing in the sound of the sentences.
I had a reverential regard for Billy Claire, and now he
was to induct me into the church.
250 The Swamps
As the singing ceased my heart beat tumultuously.
My name would be spoken before all the people. I
would have to stand up and answer certain questions.
And then I would be driven to the creek and baptized.
It all seemed very chimerical to me; rather more like
watching some dramatic performance than being the
I heard my name pronounced. I answered all the
questions. The tall, towering preacher gave all the
particulars about the baptism. And then the benedic-
tion. Still in a daze I followed my father to the door
of the church. Several people spoke to me — something
biblical or of a congratulatory nature. Some were old
people and a few of my own age. Several of them
pressed my hand encouragingly.
My mother joined us and we walked across the
sodded inclosure to where old Fan and the buggy stood.
Clarkson had been sent home with a neighbor. We
climbed into the buggy and turned down the road
towards the deep pool in the creek. A part of the
congregation followed, other buggies preceded us. The
day was fine. I believe it was in June. The foliage
was in full, the sun warm and benign.
We halted a few hundred feet from the pool. My
father alighted and hitched old Fan to a tree. My
mother prepared me for the ordinance. She removed
my shoes and coat. She turned down my shirt collar.
Then she unrolled a heavy blanket that she had brought
along with her to wrap around me on our way home.
This she draped over the seat of the buggy.
Getting Religion 251
Brother Billy was standing on a sandy edge of the
pool. He wore his waterproof suit, a garment fashioned
for these occasions. The people had assembled about
him and were singing a familiar hymn. He looked in
our direction and we moved forward, my father on
one side of me and my mother on the other. They
handed me to the preacher. At the conclusion of the
first verse of the hymn I started by the side of the
preacher to walk slowly into the pool. The singing
continued. A robin trilled in a tree nearby. When we
had reached the middle of the pool, the deepest part,
we faced about towards the little cluster of people who
stood on the bank. They had finished the second verse
and now remained silent. How still and calm was all
nature ! Only the faintest rustling of the f ull-foliaged
trees on the bank of the creek disturbed the holy calm.
Then the preacher, after a few formal words of a
ritualistic nature, concluded with : "Sheridan Rudolph,
I baptize thee in the name of the Father, the Son and
of the Holy Ghost, Amen.^' Supported by the muscular
arm of Brother Billy I sank back confidently and un-
resistingly. The clear water flowed over my face and
body. Steadily he lifted me up again, and the assembly
took up the last verse of the baptismal hymn. On the
bank I was again taken by many hands. Several
elderly women clasped me to their hearts wet as I was.
Oh, what a load had been lifted from my soul ! I
was saved, I was redeemed. What a world ! Wliat
trees! What sunshine! How sweet was life, how
saintly were all the people !
252 The Swamps
Wrapped in the warm blanket the ride home was a
journey through a palpitating paradise. There was but
little said. My mother held my hand at times and
looked supremely happy. My father looked ahead pre-
occupied and in deep thought. Only once did he say
that he was pleased, and hoped I would grow up to be
a good man. It was difficult for him to show outward
emotion, though I knew inwardly he was often moved
to great depths.
That afternoon in a dry, clean suit I lived in an
eartJbly heaven. Tip went with me to the woods and
the trees sang their hallelujahs. I was still under the
spell of religious fervor.
Perhaps of all the experiences that came to me in
childhood and early boyhood "getting religion" made
the deepest and most lasting impression of them all.
Far be it from me to speak lightly of this Sacrament;
would to God that it could come again.
Willis Comes Home
Willis was my oldest brother. Jonathan came next;
then my sister, Luella. These three children formed a
separate group, an older group separated from my
brother, Clarkson, and myself by more than a dozen
Because of this gap between the two sets of children
coupled with the fact that all three of the older group
left home early, I can but vaguely remember them — my
sister and the two brothers — as being at home at all.
Jonathan and Luella married young, the former before
he was twenty, and the latter at the? age of seventeen.
Willis went west and taught school. He did not marry
till well over thirty.
Xow after an absence of a number of years he was
..about to return and live at home again. He had
applied for and obtained the position of teacher of the
"Big Room" of the school at Rushville, and I was to
go to school to him. This situation was fraught with
far-reaching possibilities. It caused me many an
anxious moment. I pictured all sorts of dramatic
happenings when I started to school in the fall again —
to my own brother whom I scarcely knew. What would
he do to me ; what would he think of me ? I had never
taken school seriously; I habitually played hookey and.
in consequence, was far behind my classes. It was not
an alluring prospect.
254 The Swamps
For one thing my hookey days would be over — not
the slightest chance now of being absent from school,
when the teacher lived at our house, who was a member
of the family, who was my own brother. Then, too, I
knew that I would disgrace him. Here was a member
of the family, a school teacher, smart and capable, while
I, his own blood brother, was a numskull, the laughing
stock of the class ! How would he feel about it ? For
the first time in my life I wished I had not wasted my
time at school. Though I scarcely knew Willis I some-
how liked him. He was kind of a hero in my estima-
tion. Jack Kling loved to tell of Willis' exploits when
Willis was a boy. The incident of the killing of the
trapped wolf always thrilled me, glorified Willis in my
Now this hero brother was to come home and live
with us again. How he would contemn and condemn
me for my general worthlessness ! I had never seen a
wolf let alone having killed one. What a nincompoop
Willis would consider me !
Before Willis arrived from the West I had many an
uncomfortable moment. I dug up my dog-eared school
books and wondered if I might not study up on readin',
'rithmetic and writin', before Willis arrived. I sought
my mother's opinion as to Willis' probable attitude
towards me. She assured me that everything would
come out all right, that Willis would help me with my
studies. For the moment I felt a little more at ease;
but away from mother and her assurances I again enter-
Willis Comes Home 255
tained grave doubts as to the success of my school
relations with my brother.
I wondered what Willis was like. True, he had
made one visit home during his stay in the w^est, but
I didn't remember him very distinctly. I had a vague
impression that I liked him, and that on several
occasions he helped me construct some contraption —
toy or trap — that I was struggling with, and that on
these occasions I thought he was a mechanical wizard,
an estimate that had some foundation in fact, for Willis
was a born mechanic, and I was destined in later years
to spend many a happy day with him in the farm
At last Willis arrived.
Father met the afternoon train at Rushville with
old Fan and the buggy. I remained at home, for Willis
and his trunk would make a good load for old Fan,
and leave no room for me.
I heard the locomotive whistle for the station and
my heart beat violently. Willis was on that train,
Willis, who for the last two months had in turn proved
to me a high hope and a black despair. I have since
w^ondered why the prospective coming of Willis caused
such a commotion in my heart. He was my brother
and was to be my school teacher. Except for the
consciousness that I was behind in my studies there was
nothing very dramatic in this situation. With my
usual egotism and self confidence I felt I could soon
catch up with the other boys in school. I didn't
consider them as bright as I was. They knew very little
256 The Swamps
about things that I was an authority on. They were
perfectly stupid about the habits of field mice and
woodpeckers and squirrels, and other folks of the woods
and fields. So why should I be much impressed with
their "book learnin' ?"
From this thought — the thought that I could soon
catch up with them — I derived a modicum of comfort.
I'd not only catch up with them but I would soon
surpass them. I'd show Willis that I was worthy of
him, and that he would be proud of me.
While occupied with these musings I saw the ears
of old Fan wiggling the mare around the bend of the
road. Then the buggy followed and soon the caravan
was at our gate.
Willis was short, the only short member of the
family. I often pondered this. My mother was a fine-
looking woman — tall and in every way well balanced.
Father was of medium height; all the children were
tall — all save Willis. Willis was shorter than any of us.
But Willis had something fine about him, his kindly,
boyish, half shy but frank eye that made one forget his
rather too scant stature. And he was strong out of all
proportion to his size. His muscles were wiry, and
played beneath his fair skin in rhythmic power. The
moment he climbed out of the buggy I liked him.
Slyly I moved to the front gate. My mother had
preceded me and had her arm about Willis. I hung
back at the gate. Would he like me? It was a
Willis Comes Home 257
Then Willis turned to me. I met his friendly eye
and opened the gate.
''Why, Sheridan, 1 hardly knew you, what a fine
big boy you are !"
He looked me in the eye; such a frank honest look.
I trusted him. From that moment I always trusted
Willis implicitly. All my life I trusted him and my
trust was never betrayed.
We moved into the house — the enlarged and weather-
boarded cabin, a house now with two front doors, and
five sizeable rooms; a comfortable house with two fire-
places of brick, and a kitchen stove; a painted house
that looked like a frame building, but superior because
the walls were solid logs, the logs of the original but
later enlarged log cabin.
I helped Willis carry his trunk to the north bed-
room. I was to sleep with him. It was to be our
common bedroom. Clarkson was to sleep in the room
occupied by my parents.
Willis asked such interesting questions, interesting,
at least, to a boy.
"That's a pretty nice martin box — who made it?"
Why did he notice that martin box first when the
new corn crib and hen house would naturally first claim
his attention ? He walked over nearer to the pole that
supported the bird box. "Yes sir, that's a neat job;
good proportions, fine joints."
I glowed with pride. I confessed rather modestly
to having constructed the box myself. I was enormous-
ly pleased with the praise. I could build the most
258 The Swamps
marvelous bird houses, the most ingenious machines
and the most intricate devices for measuring the velocity
of the wind, and Clarkson would never take any particu-
lar notice of them. "Oh, it's all right," he would say
with a bored expression, "good enough, I reckon."
That would be the extent of his comment, as he turned
from mechanics that bored him to the drugs that he
But here was Willis whose first comment about
home things was on my two-story martin box, a box on
which I had spent days, and of which I was inordinately
proud. And Willis was genuinely interested and
sincere. He asked all about its interior arrangement,
the number of compartments, the size and thickness of
the i^artitions. In a moment my shyness had vanished
and I was babbling away completely absorbed in the
subject of martin boxes. I showed him other things I
had made — a little water wheel that ran from water
siphoned from a pail of water, and a windmill that
kept a little man sawing wood on every windy day, and
a rooster weathervane, and a little wagon with wheels
made from disks sawed from the end of a log.
"What on earth have you two found to keep you
out of the house all this time?" my mother exclaimed
as she came around the house looking for us. "Here,
it's nearly supper time and you have scarcely been in
the house for a minute."
Willis looked a little sheepish as he explained that
he was examining my inventions. "I^ot half bad,
Willis Comes Ho.me 259
either," Willis added. "Mighty clever, those contrap-
tions; and that martin box is a beauty."
My mother agreed with liim. She always appre-
ciated my mechanical conceits, though I suspect she
never sensed the niceties of construction and finish as
did brother Willis.
1 went to bed that night in high spirits. I had
found in Willis a congenial spirit, a brother of like
mind as of myself. I pictured with apocalytic accuracy
the endless days I was destined to spend with Willis in
workshop and walks as the years rolled on and kept him
in our midst — years that under his sympathetic
direction, and fatherly interest had much to do in
sliaping my after life.
But there was one question that bothered nie
immeasurably. It was this: "What would Willis think
of me when he learned, as he was inescapably destined
to learn, that I was a numskull in school?" The fonder
I grew of Willis the more poignant became my suffering
at the thought of this discovery. At times I had all but
decided to make a clean breast of it and tell him the
whole disgraceful story — the story of my habit of
playing hookey, of habitually neglecting my lessons —
and as a result of this sinful waste of time, of being
far behind the other boys in school. True, since I
joined church in June, T had fully made up my mind
to apply myself industriously to my studies during the
coming term, but how much easier it would have been
to catch up with my classes under a strange teachor
instead of under mv l)r()ther, a brother whom I found
260 The Swamps
more congenial every day. The opening of school was
but a fortnight off ; I trembled to think of it.
In my perturbation I sought the advice of my
mother. She had evidently been troubled by the same
thought; for it had slowly become neighborhood
knowledge that I was carelessly indifferent to my school
work, and that most of the boys of my own age were
far ahead of me in their studies.
"I have thought of that, Sheridan," my mother
agreed, "and I am sorry you wasted your time at
"Do you think Willis will — will despise me?" I
"Oh, no," she assured me, "but since he has such
a high opinion of your mechanical ability, I am afraid
he will be disappointed that you are so far behind in
This thought pained me deeply, that Willis whom
I had learned to regard so highly, and in whom I had
discovered such an appreciative critic in all that I did
should be disappointed in me.
"Do you think I could study up some before school
opens?" I anxiously asked.
"You might," she answered dubiously, "that is, if
Willis would be willing to help you."
That was just it. I had often pondered the question
before. Would it be better to tell Willis and throw
myself upon his mercy and trust to his generosity, his
willingness to tutor me before school began ? If so, I
decided I must approach him at once; time was short
Willis Comes Home 261
That night after supper we were sitting under the
locust tree in the front yard. Willis was planning a
huge wind engine which we might build together during
the coming winter — one that would pump water, churn,
saw wood, shell and crack corn. It was a most alluring
picture, and one that I fain would have discussed with
him until bed time. But the question of my back-
wardness in school was a more weighty one, and one
that was now uppermost in my mind. The confession
had to be made and that at once. Willis must have
noticed my lack of interest in what he thought would
prove a powerful appeal to me. Finally he said : "Don't
you think we could do it? Wind power in the west
does all the things I have mentioned and more. I have
studied these wind engines and am sure we could build
one. Was I interested?" Indeed, beyond measure. I
told him so, emphasized it.
"You know I am interested," I declared with
vehemence, "it would be the most exciting thing I ever
did. Think of it, to see that great wheel turned by the
wind and doing all kinds of work ! It would be the best
thing that ever happened in the Swamps. But," I
continued and hung my head in shame, "but Willis" — I
faltered in abject misery, "I haven't been to school
much, I haven't studied much, I've been wild, I'm way
behind my classes."
Willis looked a little disappointed, just for a
moment. Then his face brightened as he reassured me.
"That's too bad, Sheridan."
262 The Swamps
I awaited with fear his condemnation. But that's
as far as it went.
"That's too bad," he repeated thoughtfully. Then
after a moment he continued: "But buck up. I've got
faith in you. Maybe you have been a little careless
about your studies. Many a boy has. Why, one of
my brightest boys in the west was seventeen years old
when he first started to school. I taught him to read,
used to stay after school. In four years he was at the
head of his class, is now working his way through
college. Xo boy could do things like you do and be
stupid. Xo, siree. Don't you let that bother you;
we'll build the windmill all right and you will be up in
your work, too, before Christmas."
If I loved Willis before I could have fallen doAvn
and worshipped him now. But of course I didn't ; only
turned aside to crowd back the threatened tears. I
called his attention to a couple of cardinals that during
the summer had nested in the cedar, and reared their
That night by a smoky oil lamp I brought out my
'rithmetic, and before school opened Willis had patiently
led me from fractions to cube root. I would not have
disappointed Willis for all the gold in the world in his
cheery prediction that I would come out in my school
work all right.
Came September. That momentous morning my
mother packed away our lunch in a neat homemade
basket, one that my father had especially fashioned
for this particular purpose, one with a hinged top that
Willis Comes Home 263
fit down neatly over the outer edge of the lower section,
and fastened with a hasp woven of willow.
I carried the lunch, our lunch, the teacher's lunch
I wondered what the boys would say when they
saw me eating the noonday meal with the teacher —
say of me, a notorious shirker and adept at playing
hookey. I also thought of how they would gloat over
me in class when I displayed my backwardness, my
ignorance, and I the teacher's brother! Weil, I
consoled myself, they didn't know I had been studying
hard and faithfully for two w^hole weeks. I would
show them I was not such a blockhead after all. 1 was
fiercely determined to redeem myself. I would study
all night if necessary. I was going to be a credit to
Willis at all costs, I would ! I emphatically would.
The boys and girls were waiting outside the door.
Willis was as much of a stranger to them as he had been
two months before to me. He spoke to them pleasantly
and I called several boys by name. But most of them
hung back. There seemed to be something missing
from the confidential relationshij) of last year. Was it
because Willis was to be the teacher, Willis my own
brother? Or maybe it was because I had joined church
since the last session, maybe they would call me one
of those goody, goody boys. Maybe. Whatever it was
1 felt it, felt that I was no longer one of them. I
feared they were going to cut me.
264 The Swamps
First day over, and still the restraint. So far I
had not disgraced Willis. In the perfunctory recita-
tions of the first day I did as well as the others.
"Where did he learn his fractions?" I heard Wilda
"Don't know," Billy Hoadley replied. "Didn't
know nothing about fractions last year."
But I did my examples in fractions on the black-
board creditably enough. Billy made a mistake in his
common denominator, Billy, my pal on many a hookey
jaunt. Even Billy seemed a little distant at the noon
A week passed, a month, three months — then came
After the Christmas holidays the boys warmed up a
bit to me. They liked Willis. He was so boyish
himself, had a boy's outlook on life, not assumed to
make himself popular with the boys, but really boyish
at heart; remained so all his life. He joined with
us in our games when he could spare the time, and
always laughed heartily when the joke was on himself.
Once we slung him sprawling to the bottom of the
hill in a well-engineered game of crack the whip. He
ran foot races with the boys and was sometimes out-
distanced, too. I believe every boy liked Willis and
from holding aloof from me because I was the teacher's
brother, and could not for that reason be taken into
their confidences, I at length became all the more
trusted, a go-between them and the teacher, a sort of a
friend at court to intercede for them and to represent
Willis Comes Home 265
them whenever occasion demanded an intercessor. It
was very pleasant to be taken back again into their
confidences, and be one of them.
I spoke "pieces" now with the others. I sometimes
made some rather amusing mistakes. Our selections
were generally classical — from the prose and poetry of
the early Victorian period — and generally far above
our heads. It was perfectly natural, therefore, that not
being able to grasp the fine points we gave these
selections some grotesque and whimsical interpreta-
tions; not to mention some original pronunciations of
long and, to us, meaningless words. We never rehearsed
these declamations in the presence of our teacher —
for some vague reason this was not considered fair or
good form. We were given the selections to speak
without outside help. We declaimed these pieces on
Friday afternoons. I well remember on one occasion
when I had been given Anthony's Oration to declaim.
I had spent a good deal of time in preparing this classic
— declaimed it in the fastness of the forest and, on
occasions, in the back of the farthest field. I was
determined to make a great hit. It has always been
difficult for me to speak pieces, difficult for me to
memorize anything, that is, letter perfect. So to
memorize the "Oration" meant a vast amount of work
But finally the fateful afternoon arrived and I felt
proud of what I considered my accomplishment, the
achieving of this masterpiece.
266 The Swamps
It was my turn to speak. "Friends, Komans,
Countrymen," I began, booming out my voice till it
rattled the wooden partition between the two rooms.
Then I hesitated. The room began to waver a trifle.
Some one giggled. That didn't help matters. Some-
one whispered the next line. I looked at Willis. He
had his head down over the desk and his hands over
his mouth. My heart leaped in gratitude. Willis was
surreptitiously prompting me. I caught the line and
with supreme confidence bellowed ahead. The windows
fairly rattled from my booming voice. I gained
confidence as I neared the ending. I was saying;
"The evil that men do lives after them; the good is
oft interred with their bones." There was a titter,
that temporarily abashed me. But I thundered ahead
till I reached the end and made my bow. After
returning to my seat I pondered the reason of that
last titter. On our way home I asked Willis how I
did with the "Oration." "Pretty good, Sheridan, pretty
good." I could see that Willis had a mental reserva-
tion. I thought it concerned the mysterious titter.
"What made some one giggle at one place?" 1 asked.
"I think it was because you mispronounced the word,
'interred'," Willis said. "You made three syllables of
it — 'in-terred,' and you placed the accent on the red;
1 suppose it sounded a little funny to the older boys,
the boys who had spoken it before."
I was covered with confusion ; I felt my face redden.
There I had bellowed in agonizing confidence and made
this ridiculous mistake in the pronounciation of a
Willis Comes Home 2G7
familiar word. 1 was anxious to speak the piece again
and rectify the blunder. But I never did. 1 did,
however, speak other pieces, but never the "Oration.*'
I never heard the last of my "In-ter-/-^<:/." To this day
I feel a little warm when I think of it.
Willis instituted a monthly paper and I wrote for
it; poetry, too, about nature, the blue bird, and old
bushy tail; about the sunset, the ocean — which I had
never seen — and many other matters that appealed to
my boyish sensibilities.
We all wrote for the BushviUe School Gazette.
The last Friday afternoon in each month the
editor for that particular month read the paper.
It was something to look forward to. Some editions
were gotten up very artistically — foolscap paper ruled
into columns with printed captions and headlines. I
have one of those old papers to this day; I never look
at it but to marvel at its neatness. And what a vast
amount of labor was required to produce an edition !
Some editors particularly clever with their pen would
print the whole edition, and print it well, too. Six
or eight pages of foolscap all neatly printed in two or
three colors of ink — red, green and black to lend
variety to the pages and stress certain outstanding
items of news.
We had several exhibitions that winter, too. Rush-
ville school under Willis' management became famous
for its exhibitions. Willis had some histrionic ability.
He took great delight in it. Our performances were
always crowded, even when we threw the two rooms
268 The Swamps
together by removing the portable partition between
I was given a part in these exhibitions. But never
a very prominent part. Willis explained to me that
being his brother people might criticize him if he gave
me a too prominent part. I understood and I
thoroughly approved of his policy. He never favored
me. Contrary wise, he often required more of me than
he did of the other boys. I understood this also. He
knew I understood why he did this. It only brought us
closer together, for I never complained; I never failed
The last exhibition; closing exercises and then
I remember how proud I was when Willis "bragged
on me" that night at supper.
"^N'ever had a better boy at school anywhere/' Willis
declared. "I^obody ever studied better. He's taken
two years in one." This was practically true. For two
years before Willis came home I was a waster, a wild
boy. Every lesson I studied now began two years ago.
I had to review two lessons before I came to the lesson
Worked? I never worked so hard in my life.
But I would have studied all day and night rather than
disgrace Willis. I loved Willis, not only as a brother
but as a father, a playmate, a trusted friend.
Willis worked on my father's fai-m with me that
summer. What a bumper crop my father grew that
summer ! ^ever a weed in the corn, the garden as
Willis Comes Home 269
clean as a whistle, and every fence corner mowed like
Father was in clover. Three boys at home to help
him! True, Clarkson being the youngest and charged
with the burden of his ever enlarging Drug Store, did
not count for much, but Willis and I were early in the
field and late to quit. I think that was the happiest
summer of my life on the farm.
What days when we couldn't work outside, days
Willis and I spent in the workshop ! The windmill was
started in the winter and almost finished by spring.
"VMiat a mechanic was Willis! He fashioned wheels,
and bearings and belts with the nicety of machinery.
One master cogwheel was needed for the windmill.
Willis made it out of wood. It fitted the cogwheel with
which it engaged with mathematical precision. We
erected a tower back of the house over the well. On
this tower we mounted our machine. Xo sooner was it
in position and released than it began to revolve. Only
a light breeze, but it ran, ran with all the majesty and
beauty of poetry. I don't believe I was ever more
thrilled in my life than when our wind engine began
to function. Smoothly, noiselessly, easily the great fan
revolved in the gentle breeze. There only remained the
hook-up to any sort of machine that it would run.
First, we attached the shaft to the handle of mother's
churn. This required but slight power, and soon the
milk-house-cooled cream was yellow with flakes of
butter. My mother rejoiced with us. Churning now
was simple. After the handle with a simple devise had
270 The Swamps
been attached she was at liberty to coucern herself with
any other household work that chanced to be at hand.
Sawing wood was a little more complicated, but it
worked as well here as it did in shelling and cracking
Those were halcyon days. Then another summer.
I had completed the grades at Rushville. What was to
be done next in the way of education? Willis fai'ored
my going to Hillton — to High School. In the spring
it had not been settled. The summer remained to
settle it — my last summer with Willis, for the Fates
decreed that Willis was to be married in August.
When Willis began "keeping company" with Molly
Smith I resented it. It was the first flj^ in the ointment
of our perfect happiness. I had never seen Molly
Smith — she was the teacher at Hoagsland — but I
pictured her as an ogre, a vampire that had lured
my unsuspecting brother to his destruction. Seldom
was Willis at home now^ on Sundays. He was spending
his time — my time — with that detestible Molly Smith.
He was already considered a member of the family.
I became peevish, unreasonably resentful against his
course. He tried to placate my feelings, to soften my
resentment. He had already bought a small farm
adjoining ours on which he proposed to begin married
life with Molly Smith.
"You're going to leave us just when things arc
going on smooth," I protested.
"But," Willis would reply, "we won't be far away
— almost in hearing distance."
Willis Comks IIo.mk 271
"But you won't be at home."
I felt ashamed of my unreasonabh' attitude. 1 was
acting like a kid. Mother, too, tried to set me right
about the matter. "Why, Sheridan," she would explain,
"you couldn't expect Willis never to leave home ; he has
to make a start in life sometime, don't he?"
But I didn't like it, I didn't like the idea of his
caring more for some one else. I was violently
prejudiced against Molly Smith. 1 nursed my grudge
against her; I pictured her as a long, lank monster —
she was described by one of her pupils whom I chanced
to meet, as a tall, angular teacher — and I decided never
to have anything to do with her. What jealous in-
justice ! Dear Molly I Molly who took the place of a
mother to me in later years, Molly who refused to give
me up when the doctors had done so, and worked over
me all that long, tragic night when the fever had all
but claimed me as its victim.
But such is the jealous injustice of youth.
I attended the wedding, a little sullenly perhaps,
but I saw Molly, and in spite of my prejudice, I liked
Willis and Molly went to Niagara Falls on tlieir
TiBELESs Time and Tide
For several years my mother had not been well. She,
herself, would not admit it, made light of it. "All
nonsense," she would say, "of course I'm well, maybe
a little tired at times; who isn't? That's nothing,
everybody's tired at times, it's natural."
But her protestations did not convince us. We
could see weariness written in telltale wrinkles on her
fair face; her flesh became soft and flabby, and dark
hollows formed beneath her uncomplaining eyes.
These evidences of failing health were more
pronounced on some days than they were on others.
Indeed, for several weeks at a time she would seem as
vigorous and fine looking as she ever did; and my
mother was a fine looking woman — tall, well propor-
tioned, clear skin and pink complexion. / thought she
was beautiful. It pained me deeply to see her rosy
cheeks take on an unhealthy pallor. I could not deceive
myself, my mother was failing. Still she persisted in
doing her work as usual, though we all tried to persuade
her to have some one come and help her. But she
would not. "What do I want with a woman puttering
around the house," she would answer with feeling.
"Only be in the way; I don't need her, the work isn't
hard, I can easily do it." Then as an after thought
she added, "and besides Sheridan's going to High School
at Ilillton in the fall — that will make the house-
274 The Swamps
work mere child's play, only three in the family. I
must be pretty poorly if I can't keep house for three."
"But I'll be home every week from Friday night
till Monday morning," I reminded her.
"Then I'll make you pitch in and help me," she
replied with a twinkle of the eye.
During the early part of the summer my mother
remained about the same, had her good days and her
poor days. Clarkson and I did the harder work about
the house and tried to help her in every wa}^ we could.
"You make a pretty good girl, Sheridan," she would
say to me when I succeeded in turning my hand to some
particularly feminine work. When mother had had a
restless night I got breakfast. In anticipation, perhaps,
of these occasions my mother had taught me to do plain
cooking — frying bacon and eggs, making coffee and
milk gravy and the like. Many a morning I arose and
prepared breakfast. "^NTo," I would answer her argu-
ment that it was all nonsense, "you lie still; I'll be
going to school soon noAv, and Clarkson isn't as good
a cook as I am. So you'd better use me while you
can." Still vowing it was all unnecessary she would
sink back on the pillow. I could see she needed the
rest. When Clarkson and I had finished breakfast
and washed the dishes we allowed her to get up.
At first my father had opposed my going to High
School. During the three winters I went to Rushville
under Willis' teaching I had made satisfactory progress.
I was up with my classes. This usually ended the
education of the average farmer boy. But I wanted to
Tireless Time and Tide 275
go further, 1 wanted to go to High School. Willis was
of like mind. My mother wanted me to go. But father
was not convinced. I could now do a man's work on
the farm, he sorely needed help. The old trapper,
Jack Kling, w^as still working for us, but Jack was
getting on in years. How old he was no one knew.
Jack himself, didn't know.
"^o, Sheridan," Jack would say to me ruefully,
"I'm getting old, I'm coming to the short rows, the
field will soon be finished."
Xone knew it better than I — old Jack, my good pal,
my romancer of toddlehood days was stiffening up, his
eyes were growing dim; he couldn't do a man's work
"Don't see why George keeps me any longer," he
would say sorrowfully, "I ain't no good to him any
I assured Jack he would never go without a home
while a Rudolph had one. This assurance always
seemed to comfort him.
But the fact remained, nevertheless, that Jack was
out of the reckoning so far as farm work went, ^fy
father could not depend upon him.
My father had some difficulty in bringing himself
to the point where he could consent to my going to High
School. He had expected me to take my place on the
farm. The idea of continuing my education beyond the
country school did not fit in with his plans.
One night after retiring I heard my parents
discussing my case.
276 The Swamps
"I want liim to go," my mother insisted. ''Willis
has faith in him, and agrees with me. Willis believes
the money will be well spent."
"ISTone of the other children ever went to High
School," my father argued; "why should we make an
exception of Sheridan?"
"Well, times have changed. When we were young,
education didn't count so much; only the ability to
work. !N'ow it's different, a boy without, at least, a
High School education is handicapped, is at a great
But my father was obdurate. He still placed brawn
above brain. He still held to the pioneer doctrine
that the ability and the will to work with your hands
was the surest road to success.
My father argued from another angle. "Besides
I can't spare the money. Wouldn't be right either to
spend more money on one child than another."
This point was promptly met by my mother. She
had evidently been pondering this phase. "I've thought
of that. As you say, it wouldn't be fair to give one
child more than another. If you let him go to school,
I'll make it even with the other children. I have
a thousand dollars in the bank, the thousand from
father's estate. I'll pay Sheridan's expenses. It won't
be more than a hundred dollars a year for the two
years, at least not much more by his coming home every
Friday after school — and I'll give each of the other
children a like amount ; five children in all, two hundred
dollars each — that takes the thousand dollars."
Tireless Time and Tide 277
My father protested: "Wliy don't you keep that
money to spend on yourself? It's your money to do
with as you please?"
"To spend it like that would please me best of all."
Then after a pause she added, "Besides, what's the use
to keep it till we're gone. I want the children to have
it now — when I can enjoy it with them."
There was silence. That was it, now. It touched
an angle that was disturbing to us all. How long
would mother be with us?
I think this thought must have saddened father,
for after a little while he answered very gently, "I agree
with you, 'Lizbeth, why hoard our few dollars? Why
not enjoy seeing our children use it — now."
He placed a tremulous emphasis on the now and
I knew what was uppermost in his mind. Then I knew
the matter was settled. I was to go to llillton to High
School. Far into the night — long after my parents
were peacefully sleeping — I pondered my future, some-
times with fear and trembling and again with tlie blind
and confident assurance of ignorance and youth.
Summer wore on to August, that sometimes stifling
August in the midwest when the inland plains pulsate
with choking heat through the entire month. Duilr.g
these dreaded dog days all nature droops limp and
lifeless. The nights bring no relief. The pools and
water holes boil down to a thick, green-scummed mud.
Cattle languish, and in the ceaseless fight with pestering
insects grow lank and lean. The brazen sun each day
burns a molten path across a desert sky.
278 The Swamps
Such was the August of which I speak, and this
particular day was unusually hot.
Mother overtaxed her strength. She insisted on
doing the work herself though I helped her all I could.
Clarkson and I peeled all the peaches ourselves. But
mother would fill the cans, all the while working over
the hot stove. ISTor would she allow us to seal them.
She must pour the melted sealing wax just so into the
little groove in which the tin cap fitted.
"I don't want any of them to spoil," she expostulated.
"These peaches will taste mighty good to you, Sheridan,
when you come home from school after five days in the
week of Hillton grub."
Still thinking of me, of my "career" at high school.
Her flushed face pained me. It grew purple in the
choking heat and I became alarmed.
"Just this one, and then we are through. Then I
will lie down and cool off. You and Clarkson can 'rid
up' the kitchen while I rest."
She went into the cool north bedroom and removed
her wrapper. Before supper time all was shipshape
ii! the kitchen.
We had a light supper prepared mainly by Clarkson
aJ:d rue. We washed the dishes. After the molten sun
had rolled its flaming mass below the western horizon,
we moved our chairs out under the elm in front of the
house. There was scarcely a breath of air.
For an hour after I went to bed I tossed about in
the stifling night. Then from sheer exhaustion I fell
Tireless Time and Tide 279
About one o'clock my father called me.
"Go for the doctor," he commanded excitedly, "I
think mother's dying."
I jumped out of bed and fumbled for my overalls.
"Dying ?" I gasped. I was stunned and couldn't think.
[ finally got my overalls on, and hurried into my
parents' room. My father had lighted the candle on
the stand beside the bed. It sputtered forth a sickly
light. The comers of the room lay in deep shadows.
My father w^as half supporting my mother's form,
apparently a limp and lifeless form.
"Bring a glass of water," he urged.
In the kitchen I filled the glass from the water pail.
My father forced the rim of the glass between my
mother's lips, but when he tipped the glass the water
ran out of the corners of her mouth.
"Hurry, Sheridan," he said in terror, "Old Fan —
in the stable — hurry."
I stumbled to the stable. I passed inside. On the
harness peg at the end of the stall I found a bridle.
It seemed an eternity before I could unbuckle the halter
and slip on the bridle.
I led old Fan out of the stable — to the barnyard
gate. Once through the gate I leaped astride her bare
back. Thus far since being suddenly aroused from
sleep, I moved as in a dream. I didn't seem to be
fully awake. Now I began to realize my mother's
condition. She was dying. I grew sick at heart.
Then I urged Fan into a gallop. I talked to her; I
patted her on the neck.
280 The Swamps
'"Dear old Fan, liuiTv, hurry. It's mother; lielp
us save her. Run, run as you have never run before."
She seemed to sense the importance of speed. Her
hoofs struck the deep, dew-laden dust of the road in a
rapid succession of muffled thuds. We reached the
cross roads. I urged her on — faster, faster. The dark-
ness reeled by in solid walls of impenetrable gloom.
The trees along the roadside formed an endless proces-
sion of hooded ghosts. The dank, night air sweeping
through my tousled hair felt like little streams ©f
lukeAvarm water trickling over my scalp. I was hatless,
coatless and barefooted. I dug my heels into old Fan's
sides with grim determination. T wound my free hand
into her mane to steady myself. Several times I almost
lost my balance.
We had reached the bridge that spans the creek near
Rushville. With one resounding thump the mare passed
over. Then the sharp bend just before the railroad.
Fan bounded over the track. In a moment more I
drew her up in front of Doctor Urayson's office. I
dropped the reins over the hitching post and hurried to
the doctor's door.
"Doctor, Doctor Grayson," I shouted, as I pounded
the door. Again I repeated the call. What if he were
out! The thought made me feel faint.
Then I heard a noise within.
"Who is it ?" he demanded .
"It's me, Sheridan, Sheridan Rudolph," I answered.
"Come quick, Doctor; mother's dying."
Tireless Time and Tide 281
The movements inside quickened. Then I heard
the doctor fumbling with tlie door. Presently — it
seemed hours — the door opened, and with saddle bags
slung across his arms, the Doctor strode forth past me
into the night.
"You say your mother's sick ?" he asked as he made
his way towards the front gate.
"Yes, awful bad; I'm afraid she is dying."
With his characteristic jerky stride he crossed the
road and entered the stable on the other side.
"Can I help you?" I nervously asked, as I followed
him. I had scarcely finished the question before he
came out of the stable leading his sorrel, the horse he
always rode when he was in a hurry. Old Fan was
breathing heavily. Doctor B. D. noticed it.
"You've been riding hard; your mare is spent, no
need of killing her. I'll hurry; you've done your part ;
better take it a little easy coming back." Then he
disappeared into the darkness.
I turned my attention to old Fan. Poor old Fan !
Her head nearly touched the ground as she wheezed in
her effort to get her breath. I went up to her and
patted her. Then I led her as far as the railroad.
She seemed better now, and I again jumped astride
First I let her walk a short distance. But I could
not forget the picture of my mother's limp, unconscious
form as my father propped her up with pillows. Fan
was breathing easier now and I urged her into a slow
trot. She kept this up to the crossroads. We were
282 The Swamps
nearly home, and we went a little faster the remainder
of the way.
I slipped the bridle from old Fan's head, and turned
her loose in the barnyard. The pasture bars were down
and she could cool herself oif in the damp, lush grass.
I hurriedly made my way into the house. My mother
was still alive. What a load from my heart ! What
supreme joy! She was conscious. Doctor B. D. was
"cupping" her, that old-time practice of lighting some
inflammable substance inside of a tumbler or cup and
then placing the container over the seat of pain. The
cup was inverted over my mother's heart.
I edged up to the side of the bed. My mother
turned her tired eyes on me and smiled, smiled re-
assuringly. How my heart bounded for joy ! She was
The Doctor remained till daylight. At that time
my mother had fallen asleep. In the sitting room
Doctor Grayson prepared a dozen powders — one to be
taken every two hours. How often have I watched
this old country Doctor prepare his powders! This
process never failed to fascinate me. First, he would
call for some paper — newspaper, grocery wrapping
paper, or a leaf torn from the family almanac. With
a straight-edged spatula from his saddlebags he divided
the paper into a dozen or more equal-sized oblongs.
These he placed in rows across the top of the sitting-
room table. With his metal spatula he dipped into the
powder bottles, first into one and then into others until
he got the required mixture. He held the powder-
Tireless Time and Tide 283
laden spatula in turn over each little paper. Then with
the fore finger of the same hand that held the spatula
he tapped off into each paper just the right amount of
powder for a dose. Xext he folded the paper about
each little dab of powder. This latter process always
excited my profound admiration. His clumsy, blunt
fingers now became as delicate as the works of a watch.
With consummate dexterity he brought the edges of the
paper together in a fold as neat as any machine could
do it. Finally he tucked the end of the folded paper
together, inserting one end into the other so that when
the job was completed all the powders were exactly of
the same size and shape. They never varied; they
were as if they had been struck off the same die.
This performance alone always lifted him, in my
estimation, to unquestioned medical proficiency.
After the doctor left I tip-toed into the bedroom.
My mother was still sleeping. It was broad daylight.
I went into the kitchen and started a fire in the kitchen
stove. My father was still watching by my mother's
bedside. I began preparing breakfast. I put on the
frying pan and covered the bottom of it with slices of
bacon. It gave forth a pleasant odor. Clarkson, who
had slept undisturbed through the night, now awoke.
The smell of frying bacon led him to the kitchen. He
looked surprised at not seeing mother there. He was
about to speak when I raised a warning hand.
"Don't make a noise, Clarkson."
284 The Swamps
I explained that mother had been very sick, that
1 had gone for the Doctor, that he had just left, and all
the excitement of the night.
Clarkson looked puzzled.
"She is sleeping now; so be very quiet and don't
He seemed only partly to grasp the situation.
"Go out and bring up the cows," I urged.
I broke half a dozen eggs into the bacon drippings.
Then I made milk gravy. I placed three plates on the
table, and three coffee cups. The coffee pot on the back
of the stove was boiling merrily. I returned to my
mother's room. She was still asleep. I motioned
father to come to breakfast. Clarkson had returned
from bringing up the cows and was already at his
place at the table.
Mother slept till ten o'clock. We had all the
morning work done. She praised us all generously.
^ext day she was up. When the Doctor came again
he left her a bottle of medicine, a heart tonic, he said.
I didn't like the idea of a heart tonic. It sounded
serious to me.
A week after my mother's heart attack Willis and
Molly returned from their wedding trip. We told them
about mother. They looked concerned, Molly especially.
I told her the Doctor left her a heart tonic.
"She's been working too hard," Molly said. "She
must not work so hard in the future, she can't stand it.
You'll lose her. And I know what that is. I lost my
•Tireless Time and Tide 285
mother wiieii 1 was but a girl, when I needed a mother
most. We must take care of your mother, Sheridan."
Molly was much at our house, and insisted on doing
most of the housework.
Mother continued to steadily improve. She even
seemed better than she "was before this alarming attack.
September came, and I started to High School.
High School and Home
When I presented myself at the Hillton IBgh School
I wondered if any of the "town boys" would recognize
me — would associate me with the "country Jake" who,
on Saturdays and circus days, sold watermelons from
a wagon at the Courthouse corner. Those first few
days at High School made a lasting impression on my
mind. I was painfully self conscious, and was
continually comparing my gaucherie and homespun
with the confident ease and elegant apparel of the boys
from Hillton. Perhaps I exaggerated this difference,
perhaps I only imagined they looked down on me,
because I came from the Swamps. They had their
own friends and associates and it was perfectly natural
that I should be left out of their reckoning. They
were polite enough to me in the school room, but it w^as
a politeness that chilled me to the marrow. I passed
many dreary hours alone in my room.
I hired a room from an old couple w^ho w^ere very
kind to me. I also ate my breakfast with them. I
had a sandwich and a glass of milk for lunch. These
cost me a dime. I bought them at Tommy McGlynn's
"Palace Restaurant." I usually ate supper alone in my
room from a lunch bag which mother filled every
Monday morning before I began the seven-mile walk to
Hillton. I did not fare sumptuously that first year at
Hillton, though I kept within my allotted budget of
288 The Swamps
three dollars a week — one dollar for room rent, and
two dollars for food, books, pens, writing tablets and
the like. But then I was at home from Friday night
till Monday morning when I simulated the gastronomic
habits of the anaconda and fortified myself against the
five lean days in the middle of the week.
As the weeks passed I became more accustomed to
my new surroundings. In my classes I acquitted
myself in a creditable manner. In this respect, at
least, I was not inferior to the town boys. Professor
Brown even singled me out on occasions as a "shining
example." I came to dread these complimentary
references almost as much as I feared those biting shafts
of sarcasm that Professor Brown was in the habit of
hurling upon the cowering head of some blundering
boy. Professor Brown had no patience with stupidity.
Whenever a boy made a palpably stupid or absurd
answer to his questions the long, lank, dour professor
would fairly boil over with disdain and scorn. We
knew when these torrents of withering sarcasm were
coming. There was an ominous hush in the class
room. Professor Brown's face became curiously
distorted as he removed his pince-nez glasses from his
thin, classical nose and fixed his hawk-like gaze on the
object of the gathering storm. The boy knew, too, what
he was in for. It was no laughing matter to be "laid
out" by "Old Brownie." Many would have preferred
the sting of the lash to the cutting, shrivelling sarcasm
from his razor-like tongue. I used to feel genuinely
sorry for one particularly stupid boy in Professor
High School and Home 289
Brown's class. I think "Fatty" Buckley was rank
poison to old Brownie, His very presence in the room
seemed to irritate the sinister old High School principal.
We could almost see the grease ooze from Buckley's
fat, pudgy body when sweltering under the searing
flame of old Brownie's tongue. Under these tongue
lashings Fatty utterly collapsed where he sat. His
waxy body seemed to spread out over the seat and hang
in flabby folds that almost reached to the floor. It was
a great relief from these painful scenes to all of us when
Fatty's parents took him out of school and sent him
to a private institution somewhere in the east.
But Professor Brown with all his asperities was an
al)le teacher. He was thorough and painstaking
especially to any boy with the will to do his part. He
seemed to realize that I was a little different from the
boys who had come up through the Hillton grades,
that I lacked some of the training that they had had.
One day in class he said to me, "I see, Sheridan, that
you have missed a little of the grade work required
here. I haven't time now but if you will remain after
school we'll go over this matter together."
This was most pleasing to me; Old Brownie was
actually staying after school to help me along. Nor
was this the only time he went out of his way to set
me right about something in which I was lacking. I
learned to regard Professor Brown very highly. I also
learned that under his stern exterior there lurked a
heart — a heart that could go out in sympathy with as
290 The Swamps
much tenderness as in its bitter invective and withering
sarcasm it could go out and stab.
By the end of the school year I felt more at home
in the Hillton High School. My uncomfortable
relations had been adjusted, my standing had become
reasonably secure. The boys in the main were kind —
some of them cordial. One became my most intimate
chum. I look back upon my association with Hugh
MacNeil as one of my most cherished experiences. We
grew inseparable. I went to Hugh's home after school.
We studied together, often had supper together. "Stay,
lad, stay to be sure," Hugh's Scotch father would urge.
Hugh's mother was equally insistent. To even up
meals Hugh would often walk home with me week-ends,
and remain with us till Monday morning. What a
glorious time we had ! Hugh was tall, lanky, not very
robust. I could handle him in a tussle easily. He was
no match for me in strength. But what a boy! what
a brain ! what a lovable, laughing nature ! Always
smiling, always ready to help, to encourage, to cheer up.
Hugh was bright, especially bright in composition,
in writing of any kind. How we used to write poetry
together! Hugh was a budding Burns. / thought so
at least. Before twenty he had published an
"Anthology" of verse — "The Rustic Poet and other
Poems." I still have a copy of the pamphlet. It was
made at the local printing office, and displays on the
front cover the legend, "Printed at the office of the
Hillton Gazette." I remember how I envied Hugh.
He was a real author. An author of a "volume" of
High School and Home 291
poems. At the time, I thought the poems were veritable
masterpieces. I still think they were remarkable for
one of his years. Had he lived I believe he would have
made a name in literature.
Vacation came again and I changed my "boughten'*
school suit for overalls. Spring farm work was upon
us. I soon formed blisters on my softened hands.
Then the blisters broke. For a few days they were
painfully tender. Afterwards callouses formed; my
hands were properly "broken in" to farm work. All
summer I worked on the farm — worked hard.
Willis and Molly were now established in their new
home on a small farm alongside our own. Willis
purchased this farm of fifty acres from Ben Strong.
Ben couldn't make a "go" of farming. Ben's wife and
two daughters were extravagant, had urban ideas. The
girls insisted on taking music lessons at Hillton, and
Mrs. Strong owned a manicure set, and used it. Ben
had to sell his farm at a great sacrifice. Brother Willis
bought it cheap. It w^as a promising little fai*m.
Molly and Willis seemed happy and interested in their
My mother's health remained about the same;
certainly no worse. But the attack she had in the
night the summer before made a lasting impression on
all of us. Molly persuaded her to obtain help. The
widow Hudson from Rushville lived with us that
summer and helped my mother with the work.
Hugh MacXeil often came out to the farm during
the summer, generally week-ends. He was a perfect
292 The Swamps
blank about the country. I took especial delight in
making fun of him, of his ignorance of all things rustic.
He took my thrusts with his usual good humor. He
didn't know a growing potato from a hill of corn, a
field mouse from a mole. But he loved nature. We
sat under the locust tree till late at night, until my
mother urged us to come to bed. Hugh was a budding
Burns. In that respect I have not changed my opinion
in the least. I believe his boyhood verses will sustain
my position. The sight of a cricket would start a train
of imagery; a dead pussy cat, a wild rose, a chipmunk,
a load of hay, a flock of birds, all held for Hugh a
I often found myself during this summer at Willis'
house. It was only a short walk across fields to the
road on which Willis lived, the road that with ours
formed the "crossroads." Molly, tall and angular but
with a heart of gold, soon won me over to her. She
was genuinely interested in my progress in school and
never seemed to grow weary of talking of my "career."
Just what that career was to be was not yet quite plain
to her, but that I was destined to have one admitted
of no doubt in Molly's mind. Of course, I was pleased
and naturally thought Molly was a woman who
possessed an unusually discriminating mind. I tried
to live up to her expectations. I read a few books
which she recommended.
The summer passed. It was again September. The
summer's sun had tanned me and the summer's work
had hardened me. During the first week I felt a little
High School and Home 293
'^stuffy'- in the school room. "Old Brownie" seemed
rested and a bit more gracious.
It was October, in the afternoon, a glorious October
afternoon. There was a knock at the schoolroom door.
Professor Brown motioned to a boy seated near the
door, motioned him to answer the call. "Some one
to see Sheridan Rudolph," the boy said. The principal
then nodded to me. I arose and went to the door. I
closed the door after me. In the shadow of the hall I
saw Jack Kling. For a moment he did not speak. He
looked old and shrunken. I felt a peculiar clutch at
my heart. With a visible effort Jack found his voice.
"Sheridan," then gulping painfully, "Sheridan, your
mother's dead." For a second the hall seemed to reel.
A window at the farthest end let in a square of light.
I fixed my eyes on the square of light. The hall became
steadier. Then I found myself. I had complete
control of myself.
I opened the door and very calmly walked to the
dais, on which Professor Brown sat behind his flat-
"My mother is dead," I said, "may I be excused?"
Only for an instant did Professor Brown's lustcrless
eyes take on a startled look, a look of painful surprise.
Then infinite tenderness flooded them. He lifted one
of those thin, bloodless hands of his and placed it on
my shoulder. I think a tear trickled downi his wrinkled
"Of course you may be excused, why do you ask?"
294 The Swamps
His face, his dour, deeply lined face, melted in a
flood of sympathy. His hand that always looked so
cold and clammy felt Avarm and reassuring as it rested
upon my arm.
Then with supreme sympathy, "I am so sorry,
Sheridan, but be braA'e lad. We canH understand these
things now. Just have faith. God bless you." He
spoke in a low voice, but the boys had heard. There
was a deep hush in the room as I turned and made my
way to the door.
Jack Kling stumbled down the stairs by my side.
We passed through the door. Old Fan was tied to the
"I think she can carry us both," Jack said, "do you
want to ride in front?"
"1^0 Jack, I'll ride behind you."
The ride home seemed like a dream. A vague
oppressive gloom held me dry-eyed and inarticulate.
In a labored monotone Jack related the circumstances
that attended my mothers death. Even old Fan seemed
subdued as she ambled along the deep-rutted road. The
sumacs and maples stood silent in their robes of crimson
and gold; crickets chirped plaintively from the dusty
grass that bordered the road.
"We were eating dinner," Jack began. "'Lizbeth
went into the bedroom to rest. She laid down on the
bed. We heard her cough, leastwise it sounded like
coughing; only more hollow like. George heard her
and got up from the table and went into the bedroom.
Then George called Mrs. Hudson who was waiting on
High School and Home 295
the table. He called scared like. We all stopped
catin', and listened. Mrs. Hudson gave a cry, more
like a moan. I knowed something was serious. I
slipped from my chair and went to the bedroom door.
They two was holdin' 'Lizbeth up. She had an awful
color and was limp. I asked George if he wanted me
to go for the doctor. Greorge was as pale as 'Lizbeth.
He did not answer, and I waited. Then I got some
water. Mrs. Hudson bathed your mother's face. But
I could see it was no use. They laid her back on the
pillow. George looked terrible. His eyes were wild
like. Kinder like they was the night he was out of his
head, the time the wolf nearly killed him. ^Go for
Molly and Willis,' he said. He never moved a muscle,
just kinder talked as if he didn't know what he was
saying. I ran across the field and found Molly feeding
her chickens. I told her 'Lizbeth was dead and she
went white, grabbed the fence to keep from fallin'.
Willis was in the field back of the orchard. She
pointed, and I ran to him. We three hurried back
to your house. George was still settin' stupid-like on
the edge of the bed. Molly told me to bridle old Fan
and go for you."
To Jack's monotonous recital I listened, but in a
vague, detached way. I did not fully comprehend.
My stunned brain functioned but dully.
At the gate I got off old Fan and looked at the
new house; at the front door. The new house stood
between the road and the old house. We hadn't yet
moved into the new house; the dream house that my
296 The Swamps
mother had slaved for, the house with two rooms upstairs
and a dormer window, a veranda and a walnut banister ;
the modern new house that now my mother would never
occupy, would never realize the joy of living in. I
think I felt bitter, bitter at Fate, bitter at the cruel
joke Fate had played on my mother. With these
feelings of rebellion in my heart I moved around the
end of the new house and entered the door of the old
house, the house in which my mother lay dead.
Father lifted his eyes to mine and the hard, wild
look slowly gave way to pity, to sympathy. He
realized, perhaps for the first time, that others would
suffer. He knew how I loved my mother. He knew
how she shared my every confidence, how she had
pleaded for me when his patience with me was
exhausted. "Sheridan," he moaned aloud. His voice
was husky, unnatural. I moved to his side. I looked
down into my mother's placid face. I felt ashamed
of my bitterness. She seemed to be gently reproving me.
I sat down on the edge of the bed beside my father.
I laid my hand on his arm. Then the flood gates of
relief opened. He sobbed like a little child — my father,
strong, stern, often arbitrary — crying like his heart
would break. In my great sorrow for him I
momentarily forgot my own grief. I tried to comfort
him. Molly and Willis left us alone; we had our first
great grief together.
After awhile we talked, talked of mother, talked of
past days with her. At length he looked through the
open door to the new house, at the sight of this he was
High School and Home 297
shaken anew. What a travesty! The house in which
they had planned to spend their old age, worked so
hard for the money, denied themselves. Mother's
money, some of it, money from the sale of chickens,
butter and eggs, and other farm products produced by
her own hand. Almost ready to occupy and mother
lying dead. It epitomized all the bitterness, all the
tragedy of life. But how calm and serene my mother
looked ! All pain gone, all anxiety over. Sleeping !
a sleep that was dominated by some beautiful dream.
Again she seemed to plead with us, to gently rebuke
us, to rebuke us for our rebellion. "I am happy" she
seemed to say. "All is well. Be patient. I'm waiting
"In a house not made by hands," my father
murmured. "That's it, more beautiful than the one
we have prepared."
The thought seemed to comfort him. He seemed
The afternoon shadows were growing longer. The
cardinal fussed about the cedar tree. I heard Molly
and Mrs. Hudson in the kitchen. Clarkson reached
home from Rushville before I arrived. Poor Clarkson !
I don't think he quite realized it all.
I heard the lowing of the cattle. They were at
the gate. Willis watered them. The bars clicked as
old Fan was turned out to i)asture. These familiar
sounds fell on my ears with the intonation of tolling
bells. Would life go on again — the same? There was
a rumble in front of the house as of a muffled vehicle.
298 The Swamps
It ceased. Willis conducted the undertaker and his
assistant into the room. My father spoke to him list-
lessly. We both moved away.
I saw the hearse standing under the elm. Black,
everything black. Black draperies hung from within
and cut in scallops the glass sides. Black horses!
Black nets on the horses even to the tassels that tipped
the horses' ears. The driver that held the horses was
dressed in black — rusty black hat, black shabby clothes.
I shrank from the depressing sight. My mother
was not like that, my mother loved color, bright flowers,
roses, tulips, scarlet geraniums, a bright ribbon, a
flowered dress; she loved sunshine, not gloom.
They were going to place her in that awful hearse,
and then into —
I refused to think, my brain ceased to function.
I remember riding with Molly and Willis on that
long drive to the cemetery, the family burying ground
of the Rudolphs and Deidricks. We passed the cross-
roads, over the bridge, around the bend just before
reaching Rushville, and then across the railroad. I
recalled that wild ride two years ago when I thought
my mother was dying. IN^ow she icas dead, was slowly
being drawn along that same road.
Dr. B. D. Grayson's oflice! His old sorrel horse
stuck his head out of the stable door as we passed. He
seemed to look sorrowfully at the hearse.
We crossed the turnpike at Fairville. Then into
the hills, where my ancestors first settled. Finally we
reached the little white church alongside of which stood
High School and Home 299
a cluster of marble slabs. At the farther end of the
cemetery my eyes fell on a heap of fresh earth. I
shuddered, I recalled that numbing sensation I felt
when as a little tot I saw my father and Jack Kling
bury old Joel Smart. Xow — I looked away from the
terrible sight. My mother! It would soon be over.
I would see her no more.
* K' * ♦ * * * *
Willis drove me to Hillton Monday morning. I
had been absent nearly a week. I shrank from facing
the school ; I had no heart to go on.
The town boys were considerate. Some had been
through the ordeal, a mother, father, sister or brother.
They knew how I felt. They said kind words to me,
awkwardly, blunderingly. Some said nothing — only
took my hand. This was better; their looks conveyed
more to me than words. One girl came up to me at
recess. She told me how brave I was, then she fled
precipitately. Professor Brown was particularly kind.
He asked me the most obvious questions, questions that
carried the answers in themselves.
Monthly examinations were on. Of course, I would
fail; not only had I missed important lessons but I
couldn't think clearly.
Yet I went through with them. Imagine my
surprise when I glanced at my report ! I had made a
hundred in every study. Deserved it? Never! not
even fifty if graded on merit. It was the heart of
gold under Old Brownie's forbidding exterior expressing
itself. I thanked the old Professor the next day at
300 The Swamps
recess. I started to say I didn't deserve it. But he
snapped out in his most vicious manner, "I graded the
There vras to be no thanks. That wasn't to
Brownie's liking. He had graded the papers himself.
That ended it.
But I loved old Brownie more for giving me that
lying report than for anything he ever did. He sensed,
as no one else, my reaction of depression at returning
to school. But it was difficult for me to keep up, to
regain my energy and enthusiasm. I felt languid,
dispirited, gloomy. My appetite was gone. I had a
constant headache. I felt feverish at times.
That first week passed in misery. I walked home as
usual after school on Friday. I thought the walk would
help me, but I found my usual buoyant strength had
lessened. I thought I would never reach home. I had
to rest several times by the wayside. My headache
increased. When I got home it was raging. Home !
What a desolate home ! How tragically changed. My
father looked like a ghost. He took no interest in life.
But for Willis the ordinary duties of the farmstead
would have been neglected. Willis came over every
day and did the chores. Molly helped Mrs. Hudson
take care of the house. Clarkson returned to Rushville
to school. Poor Clarkson ! I don't think he ever quite
realized what the death of our motJier meant to us.
When I staggered into the house from Hillton,
Molly was there. She noticed my distraught appear-
High School and Home 301
auce. With some anxiety she asked, "Whatever is the
matter, Sheridan — vou look awfully sick?"
"Got a bad headache; I feel bad all over." Molly
placed her large hand on my check, her face clouded.
"You're burning up," she exclaimed. "Go right
to bed, I'll send Willis for the doctor."
Crazed by the awful thumping in my head I finally
got to bed. Old Doctor B. D. entered the room. I
remember seeing him, but he looked strange and vague,
his eyes were the eyes of a Jack-o-lantern, his whiskers,
his nose, his whole face was askew and grotesque.
"Typhoid," he sententiously announced. Then foi
two weeks T raved in delirium.
For more than two weeks I lived in a lurid realm
of delirium. It was a region hectic in horror, suggest-
ing nothing of this world or the world to come. It was
a detached world that had for its setting the everyday
objects and scenes with which I was familiar, but
distorted beyond measure. The life I led in this
impossible world w^as the life of those souls condemned
to suffer an eternity through the regions of the Inferno.
I remember this fortnight of Hades as distinctly today
as I did on the days that immediately followed my
escape. I remember in fairly accurate sequence the
imaginary scenes and experiences through which I
passed. I remember the grotesque illusions, the
perverted psychology', the distorted system of reasoning
that dominated my brain ; I remember my attitude
towards the problems that presented themselves in
fragmentary and twisted form in the chimerical world
in which I now lived, and moved, and mentally suffered.
I was not conscious of any physical pain ; my suffering
was all of the mind — a mind grown top-heavy and
fantastic, that epitomized and condensed in a world
of refined torture all the hallucinations and vagaries
of a disordered brain.
Of course, all these mental processes were naturally
lacking in logic, in any sustained and consistent process
of reasoning; but a crude and elementary system — an
304 The Swamps
attempt to synchronize and harmonize my intangible
and fugitive mental concepts — existed nevertheless, I
knew, for example, the well contained water — cool,
delicious water — and very cunningly I planned an
attempt to get it; for at this time the old practitioner
of medicine withheld water from his fever-racked
patients. I remember entering that borderland of
delirium, too, on the day I came home from High
School at Hillton. I remember hearing the doctor
pronounce my malady typhoid fever. At that very
time I was already half way into the realm of raging
fever, but still able to differentiate between the real
and the fantastic. I Avas still able to recognize people
and things but they were in a whimsical and bizarre
setting. While in this borderland I was removed to
one of the rooms in the new house — the southeast corner
room. This was a wise arrangement, for two days after
I took to my bed, Clarkson came down with the same
malady. Clarkson remained in a room of the old
house. He also was soon in a state of wild delirium.
It was better that we were in different houses, better
because of our hallucinations and the resultant reaction
they would have had on each other, better because of
our vociferous arguments and struggles with our
attendants, who had to keep us in bed by sheer force
much of tlie time.
At this time I was a strong, husky boy, and in those
first few days — those days when the fever had not yet
weakened me — I was doubly strong because of the effect
of the malady on my mind. I was headstrong as well,
The Fever 305
and insisted, in my delirium, in getting out of bed and
pursuing whatever course my disordered brain suggested.
To keep me in bed required the effort of three strong
men. Luckily these were at hand, for the circumstances
of the Rudolph boys' sickness following, as it did, upon
the death of mother, appealed to the sympathy of all
the countryside; and all the countryside came to offer
help. Here, indeed, was opportunity for help — help to
hold us in bed for days, sit up nights with us, help in a
dozen different ways. To constantly force me to remain
in bed was a most distressing struggle, wearing on me,
wearing on the men who had to hover over me always
ready to seize me and hold me when I made one of
those sudden lunges to escape. I remember this part
of my delirium; I remember it very clearly, remember
the watchfulness of my captors ; not, however as human
beings trying to render me a favor, but as grotesque
goblins, as minions of Satan who presided over this
fiery furnace in which I was doomed to forever suffer
an endless death. I^o, not death; my disordered brain
did not reason that far, but just a present hell that
knew no future, that remembered no past. I could
think in a way but only of the immediate present. This
endless struggle with these demons I remember as of
yesterday. This constant conflict proved a serious
problem to both watcher and watched alike.
There came a time when old Doctor B. D. feared
this wearing struggle would result in disaster, disaster
for me, for all the while the fever was consuming me;
my organs were growing weaker, and in consequence
306 The Swamps
failed to function properly. My heart, especially, was
severely taxed in these violent clashes, and the old
family doctor anxiously pondered the situation. Many
were the conversations I had with him in later life,
and he did not attempt to conceal the fact that he was
utterly at a loss as to how to manage me.
Finally he decided to allow me to get out of bed if
I wanted to, and wander around the room. He thought
this would be less of a strain on me than the exhausting
struggle when I was kept in bed by sheer force. Every-
thing was taken out of the room that might hamper
me, that I might fall over, or in my dementia, I might
seize and use as a weapon upon my imaginary foes —
those demons that guarded me night and day lest I
escape from my chamber of horrors.
At first this worked very well. I would wander
about the bare room for awhile and finally, of my own
accord, go back to the bed. Willis, Molly and the
neighbors took turns at watching me. Several days
and nights passed. I was allowed the freedom of the
room with apparently no untoward results. I remember
this new phase of my treatment very well. At first
my disordered brain reacted dully, uncomprehendingly
to the new regime. But though my reason was dis-
jointed I still retained the power of cunning. I was
forever planning my escape from this prison of agony.
The night I attempted to put my plan into execution
Jake Burson, Albert's father, was looking after me.
Of course Jake, as were the others who took care of me,
was charged by Doctor B. D. to keep a sharp lookout
The Fever 307
for me — to be ready to checkmate me in any gesture
that might result in bodily harm to me. The door
was kept locked, I seemed to realize this, and I knew
that escape through this channel would l>e out of the
question. Then I thought of the window — the south
window — the window nearest the pump. The pump !
That was at the bottom of all my plans to escape.
Above all else I longed to reach the pump. In my
delirium I sometimes persuaded myself that I had
reached the pump, when for hours I pictured myself
drinking gallons of cool, delicious water pumped up
from the depths of the well. 1 did not drink it from
the tin cup or gourd usually found hanging from a
nail in the pump — that would be too slow — but I
fancied my face upturned beneath the spout, one hand
supporting my body, while with the free hand I
pumped a full stream of water directly into my parched
and burning mouth. Just how I could distort and
twist my body so that this could be accomplished did
not concern me; but in my delirium this position seemed
brought about easily enough, and I found myself thus
engaged, with the surplus water from the generous
wooden spout flowing deliciously over the sides of my
This was the lure that haunted me, that obsessed
me, the mad determination to reach the old wooden
pump, that pump that Charley Woodhull's father had
bored from an oak log, and fitted with a strong handle
and a wooden spout, through which flowed the grateful
stream of cool, sparkling water.
308 The Swamps
My fever must have been intense on this particular
night, the night Jake Burson watched me, for I was
determined by foul means or fair to reach that coveted
pump and drink, and drink, and drink. The thought
of that forbidden water maddened me, made me
desperate. The injustice of it all, too, embittered me.
What had I done that I should be so tortured ? I would
thwart these demon guards. I'd go to any lengths to
cheat them of their devilish designs on me.
Jake must have momentarily dozed, though in
speaking of the incident afterward he would never
"iN^o, sir," he would protest, "I was wide awake, I
was watching every movement Sheridan made. But he
was quicker than greased lightning; before I could say
Jack Robinson he was half way through the window.
I thought it was all over. He was an awful sight. I'll
never forget that night if I live to be a hundred."
Jake did get a terrible shock. Willis said when the
crash of broken glass brought him from Clarkson's
room in the old house to my room in the new, Jake was
as white as a ghost and was moaning like one bereft of
reason. He was pawing weakly over me and trying to
drag me back through the shattered window. With
Willis' assistance they finally got me back into the
room — I was only partly through the v/indow — and
lifted me to the bed. I was fearfully cut by the double-
thick glass, and Was bleeding profusely. By this time
Molly and my father were on the scene. Jake Burson
was dispatched post haste for Doctor Grayson, while
The Fevek 309
"Willis, Molly and my father picked broken glass from
my wounds, and tried to stanch the flow of blood. And
now a strange thing happened — with the loss of blood
my fever dropped and my delirium left me and for an
hour or more I was in my right mind. I had escaped
from my torture chamber, and the demons had vanished,
and I was surrounded by those I loved. I remember
how sorry I felt. I almost wept at the thought of the
anxiety I had caused. I apologized, and begged them
to forgive me. To hear me speak sanely again pleased
but terrified them. It was suggestive of the current
impression that consciousness often immediately
l)recedes death. They assured me that they understood,
and tried to comfort me. But they were so concerned
over the injury I had inflicted on myself, together w^tli
the impression the return of my reason produced,
that I could see they were well nigh beside themselves.
They partially stanched the flow of blood from the
cuts on my right arm and in the back of my head whore
the glass went deepest, and then the doctor arrived.
Stitch after stitch he took in my arm and my scalp.
For over an hour he was stitching up and dressing my
wounds. "How did it happen ?" he asked as he worked,
lie looked at Jake Burson. Jake never quite forgave
himself for allowing me to inflict this injury to myself.
It seems I loitered for awhile in front of the window,
a window of which my mother had been very proud,
for instead of consisting of a number of small panes
each sash was fitted with but a single glass of double
thickness and of an excellent quality. I seemed to
310 The Swamps
realize in my insane manner of reasoning that to plunge
through this obstruction face forward would result in
physical disaster. So I deliberately turned my back
to the heavy plate glass and then with all my strength
I threw my full weight against the window. The glass
gave way with a startling crash. I was cut fearfully,
especially on the back of my head and in the muscles
of my right arm. These scars I will carry to my grave.
Jake Burson was now suffering acutely. I remember
I felt sorry for him.
"I can't understand it, Doc," Jake began, "I had
my eye on Sheridan every minute. I^o, I was wide
awake, as wide awake as I am now." Great beads of
perspiration rolled down Jake's weather-beaten face.
Then he continued, "Sheridan was just aimlessly moving
about the room. Then he came to the south window.
He turned his back to it, and with his eye on me, quick
as a flash, he threw his whole weight backwards against
the pane. As the glass broke into a thousand pieces,
Sheridan fell hanging half way through the window.
Blood spurted from the back of his head and right arm
and I rushed to where he lay moaning."
Jake was in an agony of despair, the doctor saw
how he suffered and replied, "Well, maybe this won't
make him any worse."
Doctor B. D. was talking in my presence under the
impression that I was still in delirium and couldn't
"But I'm sorry it happened. It will weaken him,"
The Fever 311
*'Jake wasn't to blaDie," I joined in weakly.
The doctor looked at nie in surprise. Xo one had
told him I was, for the time being, in my right mind.
"Xo, Jake couldn't help it. I was too quick for
"Why, Sheridan," Doctor B. D. said to me in
amazement. "Do you know what you did?"
"Yes, doctor, I know now, but I didn't at the time;
I guess I must have been out of my head."
"Yes, Sheridan, I guess you were; but maybe now
you will be better." The doctor looked at Jake : "After
all, Jake, this may be a blessing in disguise. Blood
letting is an old remedy — who knows if it may not have
had its value?"
Jake seemed relieved. If only his failure to
restrain me could result in good, his suffering would be
I was placed in bed, the doctor left and in another
hour I was again in the throes of delirium. Only for
a few hours had my sentence in the chamber of horrors
been commuted. Again I was being tortured with
branding irons and burning fumes. Again I was
dreaming of that cooling well for which I had but
recently made my spectacular break. In recalling this
period of delirium it has always been a peculiar
experience to me to remember for only a few hours
everything as it really was. I can see myself in this
Hades being suddenly lifted out for a time and placed
with my relatives and friends, into the world as I knew
it in normally sane moments, and then being lowered
312 The Swamps
again into the world of goblins, and demons, and fiery
furnaces, of desiccating fumes — a veritable hell.
But as the fever wore on from day to day I grew
weaker. I still suffered the tortures of my hectic
tormentors, but I was now unable to rise from my bed.
I think my mental suffering became more acute as my
bodily strength waned. I^ever once did I suffer well-
defined physical pain — always the refined torture of the
mind, the abuse and injustice heaped upon me by
refusing me water — a Tantalus forever denied the
cooling draught, to be leered at and laughed at by these
There came a time when all hope of my recovery
Avas gone. During the course of the fever — Clarkson's
course was similar to mine, even more desperate if
that were possible — it seemed that Doctor Grayson had
called in consultation a certain Doctor Russell from
Hillton. In after life I became associated with Doctor
Russell in the practice of medicine. Doctor Russell
died from tuberculosis during this association, and one
day while going through his desk, I found this note
from Doctor B. D. It read: "No use coming down
tomorrow ; I have just left the Rudolph boys. They are
both dying, can't live through the night."
I pondered this note long and earnestly. "They are
both dying!" Doctor B. D. told Molly when he left on
that fateful night that neither of us would live till
morning. But Molly would not give up hope. Dear
Molly! For awhile she despaired. Then she called
Willis. Willis knew the Doctor's verdict.
The Fevek 313
''They shall not die," Molly cried in desperation.
"Sheridan — Clarkson — we won't let them die."
Then her square jaw set. She ordered Willis to
take charge of Clarkson.
"Don't let him die," she wailed, "don't let him."
Willis disappeared into the old house. Molly
remained with me. Time and time again in after years
she described to me that all-night fight with death.
At times I seemed dead. Then she rubbed me, chafed
me, forced a drop of medicine between my lips, cried
over me. Worked, worked, suffered and worked
through that fearful night. As the endless hours wore
on she heard as in a dream the familiar sounds of
approaching day — the crowing of cocks, the bleating
of sheep, the chirping of the early-rising birds. It was
a dull November morning. Molly pale, distraught, wild
eyed and haggard still bathed me, massaged me.
In the bank of heavy clouds in the east a cleft
appeared, through which a shaft of sunlight shot and
fell directly upon my face. Molly never missed
stressing this trifle when relating the agony of the night
in after years. "Yes," she would say, "the stream of
light fell fairly on your corpse-like face." A strange,
faraway look would come in Molly's eyes as she related
this occurrence. Here she would generally stop for a
moment in her narrative while her thoughts were
apparently in another realm. I often noticed this. I
think in some manner Molly always interpreted this
ray of sunshine as an answer to her prayers. From
that moment, Molly avers, the fever left me, and from
314 The Swamps
that moment the demons began their retreat. Slowly
I regained my reason.
When Doctor Grayson neared our house that
morning on his way to see Mrs. Simpson he stopped
more to comfort than to cure. He fully expected to
find both of us boys dead. Imagine his surprise when
he found both of us alive — not only alive but with the
"I could never understand it," he used to tell me in
later years, "^ever. When I left the night before
your pulse had gone; you were in utter collapse;
nothing would arouse you. It was even worse with
Clarkson. I didn't think either of you would live an
hour." Then he would invariably add, "It must have
been Willis and Molly. I never saw such wrecks as
they both were the next morning. Especially Molly,
I'll never forget how she looked. ^He's alive. Doctor,
Sheridan's alive. He's going to live. I tell you.
Doctor, he's going to live,' she almost screamed, and
then she collapsed in a heap on the floor. I had a
time bringing her to again."
If I was tortured by devils and demons in the
burning pit during the fever, I now faced a new agony
scarcely less distressing than that through which I had
just passed. For awhile I was too weak to move, to
think, to even take stock of my surroundings. Slowly
familiar faces, familiar objects, familiar sounds
registered themselves on my fever-dulled brain. The
past two weeks formed a separate period of my life,
became a definite agony from which I had luckily
The Fever 315
escaped. It was a well defined world in which I had
lived and suffered, but a world I couldn't definitely
locate. I existed there, but it was vague as to location,
and time. That world exists today, will always exist
Xow came agonizing cries from my starved body,
from my burned body, from a body that had struggled
through the fire of fever and was now crying for food.
What suffering can be more acutely agonizing than
hunger? I never knew before what hunger was, that
it could so torture, so dominate one's whole moral and
physical being. Under the gnawings of hunger the
whole fabric of rectitude is undermined; one would
willingly sell his soul to satisfy the cravings of hunger
— would lie, steal, even be dangerously tempted to
commit murder. Ever since my terrible suffering from
the pangs of hunger 1 could never condemn a fellow-
creature who was led to crime through hunger. Steal?
I would have stolen the widow's mite to satisfy the
cravings of my abnormal appetite. Lie? Cheerfully
and willingly, though the minatory commandment were
emblazoned in words of fire before my very eyes. I
would have betrayed my dearest friend during those
days of hunger torture for a mouthful of food. In my
state of mental and physical weakness I lost poise in
my mania for food. I berated those who withheld
food from me ; I accused them of wilfully torturing me,
and called them fiends — the fiends that had tortured
me in my recent delirium. I knew now it was all a
diabolical plan to finish me properly. By some means
33 6 The Swamps
I had managed to escape from the Inferno in which
they had plunged me, but I was still in their cruel
clutches. They were still bent on my destruction.
Of course they tried to reason with me, tried to
convince me that they were following the Doctor's
instruction, that food, except in liquid form and in
minute quantities, would prove fatal to me, that it was
for my own good ; because they wanted me to get well,
because they loved me. This last reason always called
forth my most withering sarcasm. "Love me!" I
would retort with as much vehemence as my weakened
condition would permit. "Yes, it looks like you love
me ! I suppose that's the reason you are starving me —
because you love me so much ! That's why you let me
lie here and suffer all the tortures of the damned.
Love me! That's why you let good bread and good
meat rot in the cupboard instead of giving me a bite or
two of it when you know I'm dying of hunger. If
that's because you love me — then hate me and give me
something to eat before I die."
This tirade would usually end in a fit of weeping.
Then my mood would change and I would try pleading.
"Please, please give me just a crumb of bread, just a
shred of meat," I would implore. "If you only knew
how I am suffering. You are so heartless. Why I
wouldn't treat a dog like that, wouldn't let the meanest
of God's creatures die from starvation when I had food
going to waste all about me." I even berated Molly,
Molly who I always believed saved my life, berated her
roundly for her heartlessness.
The Fever 317
"Sheridan, please be reasonable," she would urge,
"don't you know we are doing this for your own good ^
Didn't Ave all do everything we could to save your life V
"Then why didn't you let me die ; w^hy did you keep
me alive just to make me suffer like this? It would
have been all over now; it would have been kinder to
have let me die. I never suffered when I had the fever
— just had wild dreams. It wasn't torture like this;
and but for your cruelty you could give me something
to eat, too, if you wanted to."
I met Molly's argument that to give me solid food
now would result fatally with, "Then let me die; I
would a thousand times rather be dead than alive and
suffering like this."
In those unreasoning days I was extremely difficult.
I Tvould not listen to reason; I could not be trusted;
I had to be watched almost as closely as I had to be
watched during my delirium. I openly boasted that at
the very first opportunity I would go to the kitchen and
eat my fill of food. And I would, too; the folks knew
I would; so did the Doctor, and he gave strict orders
to watch me diligently. He had known of cases where
this uncontrollable post-fever appetite had been sur-
reptitiously indulged with fatal results. They watched
me as they would watch a criminal. I reminded them
of this attitude. "You never leave me for a minute,"
I protested, "why is some one of you always hanging
about my bed ? I'm not so sick as to need your presence
all the time; why don't you go away some time, and
leave me alone? I'm tired of forever seeing your old
318 The Swamps
mugs around me; I haven't looked at anything else all
winter, the same mugs, only uglier, that leered at me
when I was in the burning pit. Why don't you go
about your business and leave me alone?"
Leave me alone, forsooth! Molly and Willis and
the others were not to be fooled by this kind of talk.
They knew, as I knew, if opportunity presented I would
be at the kitchen cupboard, if in my weakened condition
I could possibly manage to drag myself that far. And
so they watched me, watched me night and day.
How slow my convalescence seemed! Hbw the
hours and days and weeks dragged by! At first my
lips were moistened with a damp cloth; then I was
allowed a few drops of water, after which came the
merest amount of liquid food, a few drops from a spoon.
My burnt-out body reacted sluggishly to food, un-
reliably, treacherously. Organic functioning had
practically ceased. Many artificial processes had to
be resorted to in order to stir these half-dead organs
to perform properly again their normal work. In a
few weeks after the fever left me I began to shed my
skin like a snake. During the process of this exfolia-
tion I used to amuse myself by the hour peeling the
dead skin from my hands and feet and face; peeling
long strips of desiccated epidermis from my arms and
legs. I remember how the pink skin under this dead
epidermis looked, and how tender it was. I also
remember my first bit of solid food. It consisted of
about a quarter of a raw oyster. N'ow up to the time
of my fever I loathed oysters, especially raw oysters.
The Fever 319
I could abide oyster soup but even when cooked I did
not relish oysters, and always left them in the bottom
of my soup plate. But raw oysters were an
abomination. I detested them.
But in my insane craving for solid food I would
have eaten anything, and when a fourth part of a raw
oyster — made all the more repulsive because of having
been divided — was offered me I seized upon it with
unseemly avidity. I didn't consider that it was a
segment of the lately repulsive oyster; it was solid food
and my appetite was ravenous. That was sufficient to
transmute this fragment of raw oyster into ambrosia.
And ambrosia it seemed; at any rate it was not mortal
food. It w^as food fit for the gods.
I usually enjoy eating. My appetite is normal ; my
digestion good. But nothing before or since that first
mutilated bit of bivalve touched my tongue has ever
produced the gastronomic bliss as did that poor piece of
oyster. It was gastronomic rapture raised to heights
From a quarter of an oyster the amount was
gradually increased to one whole bivalve beautiful and
succulent as it was handed me on a small plate. How
I gloated over that oyster as it lay in a spoonful of its
liquor in the centre of that plate ! N'o vandal knife
had marred its perfect form, no ragged edge broke the
curving outline of its tempting lineament, no milk
clouded the clear steely blue of its exuding juice.
I have a dog that slavers immoderately when he
watches me prepare his meal. I can understand how
320 The Swamps
the sight and smell of food stimulates his salivary
glands to the flood point. This oyster acted in a
similar manner on my salivary glands. And yet I
would fain put off the actual devouring process; it
meant a long wait with agonizing anticipation till the
next oyster was due. Then when the meagre meal began
I would prolong the process as far as possible. Each
fractional part of that oyster I would "roll as a sweet
morsel under my tongue."
How sorry I felt when the last shred had gone!
How I literally licked the plate for that last molecule
of the juice!
Weeks dragged on. I was eating normally. My
agonizing appetite had at last gone ; I was free to eat as
I pleased, as much as I pleased. I was up and about
but still weak. Clarkson and I met for the first time
after our fever in January. Poor Clarkson, what a
shadow he was of his former self! Clarkson failed to
make as good a recovery as I did. For several years
after the fever he was far from well. Yet he returned
to school the following autumn and finished the
course. Following this he graduated in pharmacy.
Pharmacy ! the ideal life of which he had dreamed and
had played away his childhood years.
I never went back to the Hillton High School. The
summer following the fever I remained with father on
the farm — father whose health had been irreparably
broken by the double strain of sickness and death. I
felt sorry for him. He seemed to need me, to cling to
me. Between Molly and Mrs. Hudson, Avho came to
The Fever 321
work for us, we managed to keep our home. But what
a changed home ! How it was haunted with ghosts,
ghosts of the happy childhood past ! My mother gone,
Clarkson almost an invalid, Willis concerned with his
own interests. Many a lonely day I spent that summer
wandering among the scenes of my childhood. My
childhood ! It was gone beyond recall. I was in the
last year of my teens. I was sober, subdued. Young
manhood was upon me, manhood with its responsibilities
and its obligations. I was at the crossroads of life;
which turn should I take ? The demand for a decision
bore down heavily upon me. Much of the summer was
spent in meditation.
Another tragic event came into my life. Hugh
MaclS'eil, my High School chum died late that summer,
died of the malady from which I had barely escaped.
This saddened me to the point of brooding melancholy.
Truly, I was sorely bereft — of mother, of my "career"
in High School and of my best chum. The world
seemed dark and foreboding. Even the birds' songs
seemed tinged with melancholy, seemed pitched to a
universal minor strain.
But through all that restless summer my mother's
voice still came to me. "Play the game, Sheridan," she
seemed to say; "don't disappoint me; make yourself
worthy of your name ; a Rudolph never gives up."
That autumn I went to college.